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Film study: Marcin Gortat responsible for Dwight Howard's outburst ... fact or fiction?

Film study: Marcin Gortat responsible for Dwight Howard's outburst ... fact or fiction?

ATLANTA — After any bad loss by the Wizards, there’s usually one or two people who are given all the blame. First rule of thumb is that the coach is always one of the two. The next is a player, and often it’s based on the boxscore -- his numbers vs. the numbers of the guy he's guarding.

For the 114-99 loss at the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday in the regular-season opener, that would be coach Scott Brooks and Marcin Gortat.

I hesitate to criticize a coach, especially one such as Brooks in his first game with his new team, without knowing the reasons behind his moves or non-moves. Do some players know the playbook better than others? Is anyone out of shape? Has anyone cut corners in practice or has to have a message sent so that player doesn’t play?

Not suggesting here that any of these things are the reason but only the coach knows those motivations. Everything else is pure guesswork and speculation from armchairs – or in my case, press row.

So let’s focus on what we do know about Gortat because, in Rasheed Wallace syntax, “video don’t lie.”

Gortat had just four points and 11 rebounds in 32 minutes. His counterpart with Atlanta, Dwight Howard, had 11 points and a game-high 19 rebounds in 30 minutes.

The Wizards were outrebounded 52-40 and were mauled in second-chance points 20-6. But if judging performance was as simple as reading stats, what's the need for film study? 

The explanation from Gortat: “He maybe wasn’t a huge threat offensively but unfortunately on the glass he’s always going to be a threat. He just always stays around the rim.  He’s so big, so athletic, physical that every time when I take my body off it’s tough for the other guys on the team. Everybody else is smaller. He gets pretty much every offensive rebound if I’m not there. It’s tough. They drive to the paint, you got to help, somebody’s got to help and leave him open. It’s a pick-and-choose situation.”

Fact or fiction?

I'll stick to the first half because that's when Howard made his greatest impact. He only had two points and four rebounds in the second half. 

1st quarter

  • The first basket for the Hawks comes on a dunk from Howard, who collected a miss from Kent Bazemore's miss for a putback. That avenue was created because Gortat had to help thwart Bazemore's path to the rim. If he doesn't step over to contest, Bazemore has a bucket. But who helps Gortat? Markieff Morris, originally guarding Paul Millsap, passed him off to Gortat. He couldn't stop Bazemore and Howard simultaneously. (10:55)
  • Millsap goes at Morris and Gortat sticks with Howard and forces him out of bounds so that when the ball goes up and off the rim, Morris has a clean get. Gortat doesn't grab the rebound but clears the space for his team to get it. That's every bit as good as the rebound itself. (9:23)

 

  • Dennis Schroder manuevered around John Wall to get into the lane and Gortat stepped up. Gortat didn't contest what ended up being a miss and Howard's momentum just cleared him out for the offensive board. Bazemore misses but Gortat was too flat-footed here. Just got outworked for the ball. The anticipation wasn't there. (8:55)

 

  • Schroder gets past Wall, who appears to be gambling for the block from behind, and into the lane. Gortat has to help and contest but Howard -- again -- slips inside to grab the offensive board. Gortat does a better job contesting here and forces the miss. (8:06)

  • Schroder blows by Morris but this time Gortat stays with Howard rather than helping with Howard off to such a fast start. Schroder short-arms a chip shot at the rim but 9.9 out of 10 that's layup. (6:00)

 

  • Gortat stays connected on the pick-and-roll between Schroder and Howard and anticipates a lob over the top. The swatted pass sends Bradley Beal in transition for a bucket to tie the score at 14. (5:16)

 

  • In a 2-vs.-2 situation, Gortat disconnected from Howard to put a body on Mike Muscala, who is 6-11. Howard grabs a missed jumper from Tim Hardaway on the other side for the rim for an easy putback and his fourth offensive rebound.(4:30)

 

  • Gortat battles Howard on a three-point shot that's errant from Muscala. Gortat bodies him under the rim, which operates as shield, so Howard can't get to the rebound. (4:04)

  • Howard is out of the game, but as Hardaway tries to run baseline to the opposite corner Gortat chips him with a shoulder to disrupt the action.  (1:50)

 

  • Gortat gets an isolation on the undersized Muscala for a quick mid-post/jump hook. (1:32)

 

Gortat played the entire 12 mintues of the first quarter and returned with 7:11 remaining before halftime:

 

2nd quarter

  • Schroder misses a long jumper and Gortat seals Howard from the rebound and taps the ball to Wall to send the Wizards into transition. (6:32)

 

  • Humphries misses and Morris gets the rebound. Even though Gortat didn't get it, he kept Howard off the glass which is another example of how helping your teammate get the rebound is just as valuable as getting the rebound yourself. (5:31)

  • Gortat gets left in one heck of a predicament. Humphries peels off screen on Porter who doesn't follow him into the paint, dives to the rim and Gortat, already on Howard, has to defend two Hawks at once point-blank range. He does the right thing and forces Humphries to make the pass (not his strength) and Beal recovers to foul a bad foul shooter in Howard to force him to earn the points. (4:37)

  • After a timeout, Thabo Sefolosha runs screen-roll with Howard, gets past Porter and Wall reaches in from the nail. Gortat has to step up to seal the penetration with Howard diving to the rim behind him. This creates a Howard vs. Porter mismatch at the rim and as Hardaway misses long, Howard misses the putback, gets his own rebound and Gortat comes back over to help prevent an easy bucket. Porter charged with a foul for grabbing Howard's arm. (2:48)

 

  • Gortat fights hard to front Howard after he stepped out again to assist Thornton on a pick-and-roll with Hardaway. He contains the ball and Gortat managed to get over the top of Howard to seal off Bazemore's drive by Wall but that put him out of position. Howard scooped up the loose ball but missed his shot. Hawks did score though. (1:15)

 

  • Gortat defends pick-and-roll with Bazemore and Howard and gauges it perfectly with Wall. Bazemore, however, makes the right read and locates Millsap sinking in the deep corner for the three. Andrew Nicholson left him to support Gortat to prevent a lob to Howard. (20.8)

There were a lot of defensive breakdowns around the ball, before it got to the rim or inside to Howard, that go far beyond Gortat who did a decent job. Having Ian Mahinmi (knee surgery) would help the Wizards immensely here so they can keep a fresh, big body on Howard at all times but the perimeter defense can't roll out the red carpet and allow free paths to the basket.

When these teams rematch Nov. 4 at Verizon Center, let's see what adjustments are made by Brooks.

To answer the question in the headline, fact or fiction that Gortat was primarily responsible for Howard's big night? Fiction. And in his quote, he told the truth. Howard flourished when Gortat was put in help situations and he didn't get the same help in return, a principle of team defense.

UPDATE: Brooks after practice Saturday afternoon in Memphis on this issue: "When you go back and look at the film and you say, 'This guy had seven or eight offensive rebounds,' the natural thing is to think Marcin or the big guys didn't block out. The bottom line is we got beat off the dribble. When you get beat off the dribble so easily you have to have a big helping. But the big has to have trust that he's going to have help when he helps his teammate."

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Otto Porter Jr. begins 2018-19 season with way too few shot attempts in Wizards' loss

Otto Porter Jr. begins 2018-19 season with way too few shot attempts in Wizards' loss

The initiative to get Otto Porter Jr. more attempts from three this season is not off to a great start.

That right there is called an understatement. Because it would be one thing if Porter only took a couple of them, but he literally took zero against the Heat on Thursday night in the Wizards' 2018-19 regular season opener.

Yes, one of the NBA's best three-point shooters didn't even get off a single attempt from long range. That is simply hard to justify, especially after a preseason in which the team had a stated goal to shoot more threes than ever before.

It wasn't just threes. The often deferential Porter was even more gun shy than normal. He only took seven total shots in the 113-112 loss and topped out at just nine points.

Porter, in fact, had just one field goal attempt until there was 1:19 remaining in the first half, when he got two of them on the same play thanks to a rebound on his own miss.

Porter still affected the game in other ways, per usual. He had 11 rebounds, three steals and three blocks and finished +1 in +/- rating.

But for Porter to reach the next level as a player, he has to add volume to his efficient scoring numbers.

"We will look at the film and figure it out," head coach Scott Brooks said. "It's not like we go into the game wanting to only shoot 26 threes [as a team] and Otto shoot zero."

Brooks continued to say the problem is a combination of several things. More plays could be called for Porter and his teammates could look for him more often.

But ultimately, it's up to Porter to assert himself and take initiative. Granted, that may have been easier said than done against the Heat, who boast one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball in Josh Richardson. They are a scrappy team with athletic and hard-nosed defenders on the wing.

For Porter, though, that shouldn't matter. Ultimately, his share of the offense is up to him. The ball is going to swing around often enough for him to create his own opportunities.

Porter only taking seven shots is a bad sign considering Thursday was a better opportunity to get shots than he may receive in most games. The Wizards added Dwight Howard this summer and last season he averaged 11.2 shots per game, 3.4 more than Marcin Gortat, whom he replaced in the starting lineup.

It won't be easy, but the Wizards need Porter to take matters into his own hands.

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Rebounding issues arise again in Wizards' season opening loss to the Miami Heat

Rebounding issues arise again in Wizards' season opening loss to the Miami Heat

Realistically, the Miami Heat had no business even being in position to win on Thursday night in the Wizards' 2018-19 regular season opener.

They shot just 39.2 percent from the field, compared to 46.9 percent for the Wizards, and had 19 turnovers. 

The Heat were on the second night of a back-to-back, having lost a tough one to the Magic the night before. They were missing a host of rotation players, including two of their regular starters.

Yet, the Heat pulled out a 113-112 victory to stun the Opening Night crowd at Capital One Arena simply because they out-hustled the Wizards. They out-rebounded the Wizards 55-40, including a 22-7 margin in offensive boards. Those 22 offensive rebounds were tied for the most allowed by the Wizards since 2012.

"Rebounding the ball is really why we lost the game," Wizards guard John Wall said. "That's really where they killed us."

Miami's advantage on the glass allowed them to put up a whopping 16 more shots. That led to 27 second chance points compared to just 10 for Washington.

It was the central theme of the game, so naturally it played a role in how it was decided. After Wall forced a miss by Dwyane Wade on a fadeaway attempt in the closing seconds, Heat big man Kelly Olynyk was right there to catch the ball and scoop it in for two.

That score proved to be the go-ahead points as just 0.2 seconds remained on the clock. All night, the Wizards made plays on defense, only to have the Heat save themselves with second looks.

The Wizards had no better explanation postgame other than Miami simply tried harder.

"They out-hustled us," forward Jeff Green said.

"Rebounds come down to whoever wants it the most and tonight they wanted it more than we did," forward Otto Porter Jr. said.

It sounds simple, and perhaps it was indeed that easy to explain. But there were other factors at play, some in their control and some not.

For one, the Wizards were missing their best rebounder, Dwight Howard, who sat out with a strained piriformis muscle. Even at 32, Howard remains one of the best rebounders in basketball and would have made a significant difference. 

It would have been nice to have him, a 280-pound giant in the paint to match up with Hassan Whiteside, one of the most physically imposing centers in the league.

With Howard out of the mix, the Wizards turned to Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith, but they each stumbled into early foul trouble. Head coach Scott Brooks had no other option than to go small with guys like Green and Markieff Morris at the five-spot.

Brooks wants to employ that strategy more often anyways, but not by necessity. And sure enough, it was Green and Morris on the floor when Olynyk broke loose for the final deciding play.

"The last rebound, we definitely need to put most of the ownership on me and Jeff because we were the biggest guys," Morris said. "I think that might have been the easiest layup of the game right there."

"I was surprised I was open," Olynyk admitted afterwards. "It kinda just popped open and I was kinda just standing right there."

Though many factors were at play, the Wizards' struggles rebounding the ball came down to the simple fundamentals of boxing out their opponent. As they learned last year, it's tough to be consistent when you can't take care of the little things that separate wins and losses. 

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