The objective in the preseason isn't to win. It's for a team to get better and peak the the right time heading into the regular-season opener. Despite losing to the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, the Wizards have reason to feel good about where they stand with the starting five.
Their starters outclassed Miami's despite a 110-105 loss. But the second unit, which didn't have Nene, DeJuan Blair, Alan Anderson or even a fully fit Jared Dudley who was playing for the first time since back surgery in July, wasn't quite as sharp at either end of the floor.
If coach Randy Wittman was critical about how they tend to overdribble and not pass the ball quickly enough at times, he had to like what he saw from the first unit with one game left in the preseason Friday vs. the Toronto Raptors.
"I thought our first unit was really efficient," Wittman said. "I think we had nine first-quarter assists and then when we gave up the lead going into the half then I thought they came out in the third quarter and established (another lead)."
The starters, which didn't include Bradley Beal who rested and was replaced by Gary Neal instead, shot 25-for-54 for 46.2% accuracy. All five of them scored in double figures. On defense, they were sharp in rotations and help, particularly Marcin Gortat.
They were able to build a 20-8 lead when John Wall exited for Ramon Sessions, and the backup helped pushed the advantage to 27-11. Then when Drew Gooden took over for Gortat, Garrett Temple for Neal, Kelly Oubre for Otto Porter and Dudley for Kris Humphries, they lost that momentum as the Heat recovered to lead 53-52 by halftime.
"In the second quarter we lost our pace, allowed them to get into a little bit of a rhythm. As I try to tell our guys you want this pace thing to be a thing for 48 minutes that eventually you’re going to hopefully wear the other team down," Wittman said. "We walked it up a couple times down on misses. For the most part I’m pretty satisfied, especially our first group tonight was real solid.”
A stepback jumper by Wall, over the 6-10 Chris Anderson, put the Wizards back on top 81-68 as the third quarter was winding down. Wall, Porter and Gortat didn't play at all in the fourth while free agents Josh Harrellson and Jaron Johnson eventually made their way onto the court.
Sessions and Neal combined to score 11 points in the fourth quarter but the offense looked disjointed not having that low-post presence to play off with Nene, who hasn't played since Oct. 11 because of a sore right calf.
Defensively, unless Temple was on the floor, they couldn't stop anyone. They allowed Miami to shoot 57.1% in the fourth, with nine of its 38 points in that 12-minute span coming in transition.
What's clear is that half of the battle has been achieved after six preseason games. But the second part of the plan, the second unit, has to work out its kinks before Oct. 28 when the regular season opens at the Orlando Magic.
In Friday's finale vs. the Toronto Raptors, it could be safe to assume that Wittman will give them a lot of work and cut back on starters' minutes.