With the eyes of the nation (heck, the world) trained on Washington, D.C., it only makes sense to take a gander at the state of the Washington Wizards, a franchise that entered this season seeking hope, change, a move forward and just about any other political slogan you can slap on a bumper sticker. Unfortunately for District dwellers, though, as many (including us) expected heading into the season, the Wizards aren't looking quite so hot early in the 2012-13 campaign, dropping their first two decisions of the new year and looking largely unimpressive in the process.
We figured they'd be better defensively after a late-spring trade that imported low-post stalwart Emeka Okafor and wing harasser Trevor Ariza, and thus far, they have, holding their first two opponents to a combined 99.2 points per 100 possessions, tying the Wiz for 12th in the NBA in defensive efficiency. But we also figured they'd have a tough time scoring the ball, even before injuries sidelined both John Wall and Nene; without their top two offensive weapons, the Wizards have fielded the league's second-worst scoring offense, missing more than 60 percent of their field goals and more than 70 percent of their 3-point tries.
It's been an ugly start, to be sure, and swingman Martell Webster wants to see things turn around quickly. In fact, the seven-year vet thinks the Wizards' fortunes must change in their next game, a rematch with the Boston Celtics, who beat Washington on Saturday night — with an emphasis on "must." From Michael Lee of the Washington Post:
[...] after the Wizards opened the season at 0-2 for the third consecutive season, Webster said his team has to stop the misery before it gets any worse — and get payback on Wednesday in Boston.
"It's a must-win for us," Webster said. "Usually, when you can get a win against some of the top teams in the league, you just ride that confidence ... We need to go in with the mind-set that we must win this game and we must be aggressive on both ends of the court."
On one hand, Webster's point holds water — the Wizards absolutely need to start games more aggressively and effectively, after being outscored 57-36 in the opening quarters of their first two games. They've played both the Celtics and their opening night opponents, the Cleveland Cavaliers, tough throughout the balance of their matchups, but for an injured team with precious few reliable scoring options — just under half of Washington's field-goal attempts as a team have been taken by A.J. Price (5 for 23), Trevor Booker (7 for 19), Okafor (5 for 16), Jannero Pargo (6 for 13) and Trevor Ariza (3 for 12), none of whom really strike fear in the heart of a defense — digging a big hole in the early going is basically a death sentence.
Wizards fans (and, presumably, coach Randy Wittman) would also like to see more aggressiveness in terms of getting into the paint and generating high-percentage looks up close, which Washington hasn't done much through two games; the Wizards are averaging 21.5 field-goal attempts per game at the rim through two games, the lowest per-game average in the league. Instead, they're too often settling for jumpers, taking the league's eighth-highest number of midrange attempts per game — and given the paucity of shooters on this team (they've made just 35.1 percent of those attempts), that's a recipe for scoring lulls. And because Washington's got precious few floor-spacers for defenses to respect — vaunted rookie Bradley Beal has started out cold, missing 11 of his first 13 pro shots — opponents can afford to sag off and pack the paint, cutting off driving lanes and complicating the process of making entry passes to the likes of Okafor, Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely (not exactly a collection of Olajuwon-level post players to begin with).
Ideally, the Wizards would like to come out aggressive defensively, slow Boston (a bottom-half-of-the-league offensive unit themselves) down, force some early turnovers and get a few cheap buckets (Washington's tied for 25th among 30 NBA teams in points scored off turnovers at just 13 points per game), and hope that generating an unsettled pace will create more open looks for their struggling shooters (they'd love to get Beal some clean ones) and more driving lanes for the likes of Price and Pargo to penetrate. Aggression begets aggression and success begets success, and Webster's probably right to think that starting out with an eye toward pushing the action could serve Washington well in the long run.
The other hand, though, involves just that — "the long run." It's the third game of the year, Martell. There will be 79 more after this. Calling them "must-win" now — especially when you're already so short-handed, especially when your No. 3 overall pick is just getting hit feet wet, especially when just getting above 90 points in a 48-minute contest would represent something of an important step — seems kind of crazy. Then again, maybe crazy's just what a team led by A.J. Price and Jannero Pargo needs right about now.
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