Increasingly, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat are being put in favorable positions. I wrote, in part, about how they can make opposing defenses pay for their coverages when John Wall and Bradley Beal are on the ball.
But this look at how they can perform better is strictly about defense. Whatever their shortcomings down the stretch in losses to the Houstson Rockets and Dallas Mavericks on the offensive side, they allowed Eric Gordon, Wesley Matthews, Deron Williams, Devin Harris, Harrison Barnes and Seth Curry to shoot out the lights. A lot of the looks were clean or came via late closeouts. These players combined to shoot 22-for-39 from three-point range, or 56.4 percent.
"Houston, in that third quarter, of the seven (threes) we gave up I want to say six of them were mistakes. We have to correct that," coach Scott Brooks said Thursday, before they play the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. "Dallas was the same way. We knew going into the Dallas game they’re one of the league leaders in running the shot clock down to under six seconds before they get a shot and if you relax they’re going to burn you. That’s what happened. We have to do a better job. We have to stay focused. This game is about focus. It’s not about anything other than just being ready to execute the game plan every minute you’re on the court and we have not done a good job with that in the last game and maybe one quarter in Houston.”
There's ample evidence:
Exhibit A: It's unclear what Beal was thinking here, but he clearly lost track of Harris after running the baseline. He is confused who he's covering (should be Harris) and is keying in on Matthews. Both are lethal but the problem here is Kelly Oubre has Matthews in his sights, though he's not aggressively double-teaming Barnes as he tries to get his shot over the undersized Wall in the paint. Instead of trying to guess what Oubre is doing, Beal has to maintain discipline and stick with his man by trusting Oubre will do his job. Oubre has a 7-2 wingspan and can make the recovery to Matthews to contest if he sucks in too far on Barnes. Given Harris' hot hand, leaving him alone from the short corner is not an option.
[RELATED: Can Morris and Gortat make opponents pay?]
Exhibit B: Under no circumstances should Curry be allowed to get this shot off. He not only does so, but there's no coverage. Porter tries to prevent the switch on Barnes' screen. Thornton initially goes the wrong direction to try to get over. Porter needed to use a contact show to slow down Curry coming off the screen which would give Thornton time to recover. He gets no contact on Curry to make him turn at a wider angle or throw off his rhythm. The confusion here is so pronounced between the two it's difficult to determine exactly what they were thinking the other was thinking.
Exhibit C: What Porter was trying to do in Exhibit B, this is what he initially accomplishes as Curry and Barnes repeatedly reset the screen-roll action to force the switch. He stops Barnes' roll and prevents Curry from going back to his left to get the shot. He allows Thornton to recover. When Curry can't get his shot off he reverses field and goes back to the action. Porter doesn't get contact on the show and Curry reverses direction yet again. Thornton is stuck. He runs into Porter this time and it forces the switch. Barnes now has the matchup he wants, backs down the smaller defender and gets the fallaway jumper from his sweet spot. For some players this is a difficult shot. Not for Barnes.
Exhibit D: In order for Beal to be in better help position to get to Curry, he had to be level on the flare screen by Dwight Powell that picks off Wall and prevents a contest. Beal does his best to challenge but with a shooter like Curry that's too much separation. He needed to be up higher, rely on the help behind him and force the ball to Powell who then would have the pressure of making the shot on the move or the right read.
Exhibit E: When Porter decides to swtich it's too late. He gets sucked in too deep as Matthews fills the opposite corner with Barnes on this floppy action. Beal appears to be in good position to switch -- Marcin Gortat points out where to go -- but he gets pinned under Salah Mejri's screen.
Exhibit F: Porter simply leaves Barnes, similar to how Beal left Harris uncovered in the first example. All it takes is the extra pass from Matthews, who now is being closed out by two Wizards, for the open three for Barnes. Beal tries to cover for Porter's mistake but it's too late.
Exhibit G: This was from two games ago in Houstson. Oubre immediately switches to take away Gordon's look, but Thornton didn't get the memo. He continues to fight to get back to Gordon and totally forgets about Trevor Ariza, who is left wide open in his sweet spot for the short corner three.
Exhibit H: Nene is driving and Gortat is in position to contest the 7-footer at the rim. Nene isn't a strong finisher on the move, though he did have it going in this game. There was no reason for Oubre to suck in to take away a possible difficult two-point shot at the expense of leaving Gordon wide open for a three-point shot.