Being connected as a unit is more important than the size of the parts. If the Wizards have learned anything since losing so much size in the low post, as Marcin Gortat is expected to return for tonight's game against the Houston Rockets, it's to communicate.
Sounds like it should be simple, but when they're having defensive lapses like they displayed in a 24-point loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this season they can look like the Philadelphia 76ers.
"We miss his size, his presence in the post," Bradley Beal, after the Wizards beat the Miami Heat 114-103 on Monday, about not having Gortat for the last three games. "At time same time we did a great job adjusting without him."
That's because with Otto Porter and Jared Dudley manning the middle during key stretches, including in fourth quarters. The perimeter players naturally are better connected with each other since they have more familiarity.
Plus, the Wizards (9-10) can switch everything defensively which minimizes confusion. While they're undersized and can get outrebounded like they were 50-31 in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks because of a big like Dirk Nowitzki who can play with his back to the basket to force double-teams to free up shooters, they can succeed in disrupting others like the Heat who don't have that sort of versatility with the one-dimensional Hassan Whiteside in the middle (37-34).
"No matter if Otto's at the five, J. Dud's at the five of if I'm at the five, we just go out there and play with heart and make sure that we're all together and we do it on the defensive end," Beal said. "We let our offense take care of itself."
Porter had a career-high 11 rebounds against Dallas and then topped that in Miami with 14. Playing smaller allows the Wizards to get up and down the court quicker and in better position to get long rebounds as the pace is revved up.
Still, they need Gortat. If they'd had him, they might've beaten Dallas, an intelligent team that always has good ball movement to exploit mismatches.
But if the chemistry starts to suffer on the defensive end, coach Randy Wittman now knows he can go to a lineup of four guards and a wing and win in the NBA. His team has done it twice -- on the road -- against two of the best teams in the East in the Cleveland Cavaliers and Heat.
"Guys are doing a great job of rebounding," said John Wall, a point guard who has played closer to the basket, too, to compensate. "Our guards are kind of big guards and we're doing all the talking and all the things we need to to make things happen for us."