Washington Wizards (29-14, No. 2 in the East) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (31-13, No. 2 in the West)
Saturday, January 24
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD, NBATV; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Robin Lopez, Joel Freeland, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Kaman (questionable), Nicolas Batum (doubtful) | Out for the Wizards: N/A
SBN Affiliate: Bullets Forever | Timmay's Viewing Guide | BE's 2014-15 Wizards Season Preview | Blazer's Edge Night
From time to time, Blazer's Edge collaborates with blogs that cover other NBA teams to get an in-depth view of Trail Blazers opponents from the people who follow them most. Today we'd like to welcome Truth About it founder and editor Kyle Weidie to preview tonight's Blazers-Wizards matchup.
Check out the other half of this Q&A session over at Truth About It.
Blazer's Edge: John Wall seemed to be turning a corner toward the end of last season on his three-point shooting, but has since appeared to regress a bit from outside. He's made up for that, though, with excellent assist numbers. How is Wall playing overall this year? Has he taken that next step as an elite point guard?
Kyle Weidie: With Wall, it's not necessarily about the 3-pointer, and so he's taken 1.2 less per game this year, and that's good. If his shooting from deep is down 4 percent to 31.1, so be it. Wall instead has been much improved from the midrange, in particular the elbows, the area that greases Randy Wittman's offense. Of the top 30 NBA players in jumper shot attempts from 8-to-16 feet, Wall's 48 percent (tied with Evan Turner) is sixth best. Overall, Wall has been a great game manager, he just needs to get better doing so late in games.
BE: Bradley Beal's numbers look pretty solid this year...how does he fit into the Wizards' offense? What are some of coach Randy Wittman's general offensive philosophies?
KW: Bradley Beal has a smooth shooting stroke, especially from 3-point range (4th in the NBA, 44.6%). Because he can shoot, Washington often tries to put the ball in his hands, sometimes in late game situations, to improve his ability as a playmaker. This year, however, Beal's been terrible on midrange 2-pointers beyond 15 feet (32.8%-Anthony Bennett and Josh Smith levels). Beal struggles with finishing at the rim and with shot selection (or, rather, settling). Alas, the kid with the nickname of Big Panda is barely 21 years old. He'll get better.
Wittman wants the Wizards to start offense with defense, push pace, and pass the ball around till the defense gives you an open jumper. He needs to run more plays to get his team more 3-point attempts.
BE: Rasual Butler and Paul Pierce have had resurgences this year in Washington. What's the reason for this, and is it sustainable?
KW: Paul Pierce is playing well via being a future Hall of Famer and now not playing with ISO Joe Johnson and shot-first point guard (and oft-injured) Deron Williams. Sometimes he's just what a sputtering half court offense needed, and I do believe he's shooting an eFG% of 53.3, the third-best rate of his career. His veteran swagger, if you will pardon my use of an overused word, has ranged from picking a fight with the rival Bulls in the preseason, to "getting ejected" early in the season so Otto Porter could get some run, to wearing some big ol' goofy glasses when taking games off to rest his bones (which I think makes his functionality sustainable). Most around Washington take it as a badge of honor that Pierce decided to sign with the Wizards in the first place.
Were it not for Kyle Korver this year and last, Rasual Butler's 46.3 percent from 3 would be on track to be tops in the NBA over the last three seasons. Sustainable? He might have off nights, but every time you think Butler is down, he runs off some more 3s. But, now that teams are paying more attention to him, his percentage has dipped from 55.2 to 46.9 to 38.5 percent from November to December to January. Not sure the Wizards can afford to have the last guy who made the team in training came dip any further.
BE: According to NBA.com stats, the Wizards have the No. 6 Defensive Rating in the league this year. Why has their defense been so solid?
KW: John Wall is the head of the defensive rattlesnake, when he's engaged, which is more and more often this season, he sets the tone that the team follows. Nene is the tail, the rattler. He makes the noise, he talks, he intimidates with position and size. The Brazilian is just a damn smart player, and 10th in the NBA in Defensive Real Plus-Minus. Marcin Gortat is a decent shot blocker (not great), also a veteran, and athletic enough to get to the right spots. Paul Pierce may get beat off the dribble on occasion, but he knows all the veteran tricks and has been a treat to watch when bothering the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant. Bradley Beal is the worst of the starters, but he's deceptively athletic, knows good position defense, and usually doesn't gamble. Usually. Still don't know what he was doing against Russell Westbrook on Wednesday on the game-winning possession. The rest of the Wizards on defense? Pretty much all wildcards. Credit Randy Wittman's system.
BE: Marcin Gortat and Nene are quite the 1-2 punch in the frontcourt. How have they played together this year? How have Washington's bigs done on the boards?
KW: Nene couldn't be happier when, after Emeka Okafor got injured, the Wizards traded what ended up being the 18th overall pick to Phoenix for Marcin Gortat. It meant Nene didn't have to get stuck playing the 5 spot. Since, the two have flourished as any combination from Poland and Brazil could be expected-just look what they did to this guy from New Zealand.
They form an odd couple who can both play with their backs to the basket but often both like to settle for jumpers-or whatever the defense gives them. Both are decent on 2s beyond 16 feet (just under 43%). Nene can better grind it out and be crafty down low, Gortat is better running the floor and getting the ball on the move. The Wizards are 10.8 points better than opponents per 48 minutes when Nene and Gortat are on the floor together.
Kris Humphries and Kevin Seraphin, discussed below, have rebounded well and provided a spark off the bench. Drew Gooden serves as victory cigar and DeJuan Blair usually holds down the inactive list. Overall the Wizards are a great defensive rebounding team and an average offensive rebounding team, certainly influenced by design.
BE: How has the Wizards' reserve unit performed this season? Who should Blazers fans expect to see contribute most off the bench?
KW: There's talent and depth but as a group the second unit has been inconsistent. Andre Miller, whom the Blazers are very familiar with, is shooting a career-high 56.6 percent from the field-he's never shot above 50 percent. He scores only when necessary, makes some amazing passes, and often gets beat on defense.
Kris Humphries is shooting 50 percent on 2-pointers beyond 15 feet (subject of a recent TAI feature piece), which really helps when you have a guy with John Wall's speed. He's also leading the Wizards in rebounding.
Kevin Seraphin has a surprisingly smooth offensive game, and has made great strides this season, but still very susceptible to turnovers and defensive lapses.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
Sam Tongue's Key Matchup: