It’s been a code red situation for the Washington Wizards much of November.
No defense exists for their guarding struggles most nights. Constant misfiring shoots them out of games at times.
It’s led Scott Brooks to tinker with lineups. This week he made notable moves in the pursuit of finding five players who will compete as desired.
The Wizards’ 124-114 win over the New Orleans Pelicans was the team’s best top-to-bottom performance of the season. Their leading men, especially Otto Porter, took control. The supporting cast stepped up. Brooks used a traditional center with Thomas Bryant making a second consecutive start. Then in the final period he went with four guards.
Switches weren’t about desperation, but desire. For one game Brooks found more than a few good men.
“I thought so,” Brooks said. “We scored at a high level, passed at a high level. We played well offensively. ...The second to the third quarter we played good defense and held them to 46 points in the second half. That was a big step.”
The head coach eyed the box score postgame. Several statistics popped out, starting with the shot disbursement. Of the nine players to enter, at least six finished with 11 or more attempts.
“The shot distribution was pretty good,” Brooks said. “We (were) moving the ball and we got a lot of paint points.”
One night after a dismal 7-for-46 from beyond the arc during an 18-point loss at Toronto, the Wizards sank 10-for-29 (34.5 percent). They also focused extensively on attacking the lane with Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis (hip) out. Washington finished with a 70-46 advantage in the paint.
Bradley Beal’s response to the notion of a better group effort centered on a more cohesive defense. He scored 18 points, but he put forth strong work on the other end of the court throughout his 44 minutes.
“Whatever you want to say on offense, we have it,” Beal sald. “It’s just getting stops and guarding our guy. It was a lot better tonight than it has been.”
Porter started the group scoring effort with 16 of his season-high 29 points in the first quarter. For the second game in a row, he played the “four,” a tactical move Brooks believes helped open the court for Washington’s most efficient shooter. Porter didn’t hesitate with the ball in his hands. He finished 12-for-25 from the field with three 3-pointers in 32 minutes.
“Otto got us going in the first quarter,” said John Wall after scoring 22 points.
Austin Rivers helped finish off his former team late.
Of all the slumping Wizards, nobody’s funk lasted longer than Rivers’ who entered Saturday averaging 6.6 points while shooting 37.8 percent from the field. That off-kilter version never showed Saturday. Rivers scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter with an array of shot angles.
Markieff Morris’ evolution into Washington’s sixth-man continues. Whether he’s thrilled with coming off the bench or not, Morris had 15 points and nine rebounds. Jeff Green and Tomas Satoransky also played in the final period as the Wizards turned a 94-94 tie into a 104-96 on a Rivers three-pointer.
The lead reached 12 at 119-107 with just over two minutes remaining on another Rivers basket.
"They brought energy. The bench kept the game where we wanted it,” Porter said. “They were able to take the lead and make some good stops. They played great.”
They also played against a New Orleans (10-10) team on the second leg of a back-to-back and without their league MVP candidate. Considering the depths Washington reached this season and uncertainty moving forward with this squad, such caveats are notable, but not enough to avoiding taking pride in their work.
Brooks answered a question pregame about at what point in the season does an assessment of the team’s shooting take place. His response was that of a coach hunting for solutions.
“It’s approaching 20 games. It’s approaching that. We haven’t shot the ball well,” Brooks said of a Wizards team that is tied for 28th with a 31.7 percent from beyond the arc. “I still believe in our guys. ...We haven’t made our open 3’s.
“Every game I say this is going to be the game that we’re going to get on a nice little streak, but it hasn’t happened. It’s nearly 20 games. Does that point take place where you just say this is who we are?”
One game doesn’t define a team. The Wizards remain outside the playoff picture. More importantly, they haven’t strung together enough games where depth and effort joined forces. The Houston Rockets, led by All-Star guards James Harden and Chris Paul, arrive Monday. Come out flat and cries of ‘what’s wrong with the Wizards’ return. At least for one game, Brooks found five guys and then some to take command.
MORE WIZARDS NEWS:
- Must-See Moments: The return of Steve Buckhantz
- Five Observations: Otto Porter went off
- NBA Power Rankings: Who is number one?
- Okaro White: Five things to know