Basketball isn't all about offense, though ultimately it comes down to a team's ability to get buckets. The Wizards scored 106 points in Tuesday's loss to the Indiana Pacers, but it boiled down to their inability to defend the perimeter against stretch fours and in previous losses spread fives.
In other words, power forwards and centers -- some traditionally big with their size and others not so much -- with three-point range:
- C.J. Miles had his season high at halftime with 22 for the Pacers, and he finished with 32 on 8 of 9 on threes. That's more than double his season average (On paper, Paul George was the starting four but he was defended by Otto Porter and scored a season-high 40 on 7 of 8 threes).
- Carmelo Anthony, a career small forward who plays his best at the four spot, put in a season-high 37 points with 4 of 5 shooting on threes, 15 above his season average.
- Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk of the Boston Celtics combined to make 6 of 9 threes. Sullinger scored his season high (21) as did Olynyk (19). That's more than double Sullinger's season average and almost triple for Olynyk.
- Serge Ibaka's 23 points is his season high for the Oklahoma City Thunder -- almost double his average, too, -- as he made all of his three three-point attempts. It's the most made threes he has in any game.
That the Wizards (6-5) had a three-game winning streak ended isn't of great concern because games like Tuesday's happen. They contested a lot of shots as the Pacers (9-5) made 19 of 26 threes overall for 73.1%, an NBA record for games in which at least 25 attempts were made, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
But Kris Humphries, the Wizards' starting power forward who has shown the ability to hit the long ball, can't defend stretch fours like Miles, George, Anthony or Paul Millsap of the Atlanta Hawks. Neither can Drew Gooden who is out of the rotation. Jared Dudley is a smart defender and can hold his own pending matchups, but when he's undersized intelligent offenses will isolate him to take advantage like the Hawks did with Millsap.
Porter is a solid wing defender, but as Anthony showed when he took him into the mid-post, he's not strong enough for that challenge yet.
"Melo was in the mid-range posting up and we had to come double-team," said Wizards point guard John Wall, who had eight turnovers and just five assists. "On these, they were coming off ball screens, iso-ing at the top of the key one-on-one and they just made some tough, contested shots."
So where can the Wizards turn? Rookie Kelly Oubre didn't make an appearance until garbage time, and like Porter two years ago he's probably not ready. Their best one-on-one perimeter defender Garrett Temple was splendid -- see the Hail Mary three drained by Miles, after Temple poked the ball away from Rodney Stuckey, to beat the shot clock from 30 feet for an 81-74 lead -- and has length at 6-6. Still, he's undersized if talking defending stretch fours.
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Nene is the best low post defender on the team and has a great basketball IQ like Temple, but he's not built to chase fours and fives around the perimeter.
One possible (and likely most popular) solution is making a move before the trade deadline in February or use the Disabled Player Exception that they'll eventually be granted for Martell Webster to locate one. Of course, there's no guarantee that such a need will be on the market and available at a price that can be afforded under the salary cap. There isn't an assembly line of Draymond Greens out there looking for a home.
The other possibility -- and more likely and sensible one -- doesn't require a transaction. There was a glimpse of it in the fourth quarter for the Wizards who can make teams that go so small pay by going big and sticking with it. The Pacers are severely undertalented in the post with Ian Mahinmi as the starting center. Their next best option was Lavoy Allen. Nene and Marcin Gortat combined for 21 points (on 13 shots), 16 rebounds and nine assists as they played less than 24 minutes each.
"You got to have a balance. We want to run. We want to shoot," Dudley said. "We try to go to Nene as much. We need to go to Gortat a little bit more. It's tough when you're getting good looks. For us, those two are so pivotal. They're setting screens, they're doing the dirty work. You got to reward the big fellas. They want some touches. I thought we did a good job with Nene. And Gortat, hopefully throughout the next five or six games we can look at him a little bit more and get him more involved."
Instead of starting Humphries, who only played five minutes in the first half because of the style mismatch with Miles, maybe this is where Nene makes a start. He can't guard Miles, either, but Nene has a back-to-the-basket game which Humphries does not. Or given how unspectacular the Pacers are in the middle, go small everywhere to be more fluid in mixing coverages on George and Miles and dare Mahinmi to beat you.
It's not an easy fix by any stretch as this has been an issue for coach Randy Wittman and his staff since last season. But it is fixable.