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Washington Wizards: Lessons Learned From The Road Trip

4:06 PM, Feb 24, 2012   |    comments
McGee has some Wizards pundits ready to extend his contract. I'm still not sold. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
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WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- Sure, the 2-3 recent Wizards road trip tasted like Grandma added way too much salt in her famous biscuit recipe. But at least the biscuits were still edible.

Monday night's 104-88 loss to the Phoenix Suns, in a nut shell, is what's currently wrong with the Wizards. Washington trailed by just five points at halftime and then were torpedoed by a 31-6 Phoenix run in the third quarter. The Wizards never give themselves enough room in a game to go on cold streaks.

You're lying to yourself if you are disappointed with this road trip. 28.5 percent of the Wizards win total happened in the last five games. Instead of diving into another 16-point Wizards loss, I'm going to take a look at the road trip as a whole.

Memorable stats from the road trip:

*John Wall shot 88.6 percent from the free throw line on 35 attempts.

*In the last three losses, the Wizards have been outscored by a combined 34 points in the third quarter.

*Jordan Crawford averaged a whopping 13.4 shot attempts over the five game span. He did score over 20 points on three occasions though.

*Jan Vesely averaged 21.6 minutes per game on the trip. At least Randy Wittman is committed to making the awkward European a better player.

*Six points. That was Chris Singleton's scoring high on the road trip and it came during the Wizards first game against Detroit. His regression is shocking.

*The Wizards averaged 15.8 turnovers per game. John Wall accounted for 31.8 percent of the turnovers.

Common themes during the road trip:

1) Frontcourt play absolutely destroyed the Wizards. Some blame goes to Randy Wittman.

Even in wins against Detroit (Greg Monroe, 27 points on 9-of-9 free throws) and Portland (Gerald Wallace, 24 points) the Wizards had a tough time limiting their opponent's clear strategy of abusing Washington in the paint. Marcin Gortat, Al Jefferson and Blake Griffin combined for a +/- ratio of 61 points during the final three losses of the trip.

At a certain point, Randy Wittman has to intervene with some kind of different defensive strategy. The Wizards weren't doubling Al Jefferson in Utah, when they clearly should have been. Washington didn't pack the paint against the Clippers, which would have forced L.A. to make shots to win.

When talent beats talent, it usually happens all game. When coaching beats coaching, it happens in the second half. The Clipper and Jazz games epitomize that statement. Randy Wittman has to receive partial blame in those losses. I'll leave out Phoenix because Washington straight up quit in the third quarter.

Some of you will look at these stats and will rip the Wizards soft defense to shreds. It's true that Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and at times JaVale McGee provided zero answers for the abuse going on in the post.

But the real NBA problem is that the Wizards don't have an offensive force down lown to match scoring blows. Nick Young and Jordan Crawford can hang in a game against shooting scorers like Monta Ellis or Joe Johnson. As much as we all like Trevor Booker and JaVale McGee, this particular Wizards frontcourt will never be able to match blows with the upper echelon frontcourt's in the NBA.

2) JaVale McGee proved he's fighting for his contract

I wouldn't fall head over heels in love about McGee's improved stats during the road trip (16.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.0 bpg and 59 percent from the floor) and proclaim he's turned the corner just yet. McGee showed maturity on the trip -- improved shot selection, demanding the ball in certain mismatches and calculated hustle -- but we shouldn't be gawking over five games of consistency from the 24-year-old center.

Whether it was his mom, his agent, Nick Young etc., someone made McGee realize about a dozen NBA teams are analyzing his every move for the rest of the season. Franchises like San Antonio, Dallas, Miami and Philadelphia are potentially falling in love with McGee's raw ability, especially after seeing the Wizard outplay DeAndre Jordan in Los Angeles.

It's a tough line to teeter between here if you are a Wizards fan. You obviously want to see McGee's game progress like it did on this road trip. But the more McGee show's that he isn't some whiny 7-foot project anymore, and is turning into a legitimate all-around center, the less chances are that he's in a Wizard uniform next season. Pick your poison.

3) RIP John Wall's terrible season

The guys over at Wiz of Awes blog did a nice job depicting how well John Wall has played in the month of February. Wall's no longer an out of control drunk freshman girl in college, slipping and falling all around the basket with his high heels. Wall shot 48.9 percent during the road trip and averaged 18 points and 9.4 assists per game. That's Kyrie Irving good. Wall individually outplayed every point guard on the trip, excluding Steve Nash.

Maybe you can argue that Wall's improved play is correlated with McGee's newfound resurgence, but again I wouldn't take it that far. Wall must do a better job in the second half of games of dictating his leadership by controlling the tempo and finding the right Wizard to get hot. He's getting better at reading defenses for himself. Now the Wizards point guard must do a better job of reading how teams are defending the likes of McGee and Nick Young.

In the last two blowout losses, the Wizards got caught up either playing the wrong style. In Utah it was banging in the post. In Phoenix is was a shooting contest. The Wizards are best when they lean toward playing in transition, but not relying on that style. Tempo issues fall squarely on Wall.

4) Trevor Booker is a much better player at home

Kind of an obvious statement from an energy player, but it's true. In the previous five home games Booker averaged 13.2 points as opposed to his 8.8 points on the road trip. At home, the Wizards can lean on Booker being the third best player, providing his help defense and a collage of different scoring plays in and around the paint. During this road trip, it felt like Booker was in foul trouble more than he was actually helping.

I'll stand by Booker and will reiterate he should be in the long term plans for this team. I'll be watching him extra closely from now on when the Wizards travel.

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