What Needs to Change for Washington
The Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks are all tied up heading into Game 5 of their playoff matchup. After the Wizards won the first two games of the series, it appeared they’d be able to coast into the next round. However, after consecutive defeats in Atlanta, the Wizards are returning to Washington looking to turn the series around. Fortunately, the Wizards weaknesses are easily identifiable and fixable.
John Wall and Bradley Beal could have sore backs heading into Game 5, as they’ve been carrying the entire Wizards’ roster. Wall and Beal have continued putting up outstanding scoring numbers, averaging 28.8 and 24.3 points per game respectively in this series. The Wizards problem lie just below the surface. The Wizards only have one other player averaging double digit points in the series, Markieff Morris, who’s averaging 10.5 points per game, but has fallen into a slump since the first game of the series. During the regular season, the Wizards had six different players average more than ten points per game. During the playoffs, that number has dropped, with only three players averaging double figures. For the Wizards to bounce back in the series, the supporting cast must step up and carry their share of the scoring effort.
The Wizards defense, or lack of, has been detrimental to the team to this point in the series. The Hawks are scoring 108.8 points per game in the playoffs. The Hawks are a respectable team, but they are not known for their scoring prowess. It’s incredibly difficult to win a series when your defense allows 109 per game. The Hawks quickly learned that they can get to the rim pretty easily, and when they do, the Wizards are unable to play defense without fouling. A physical brand of defense can help a team in the long run of a playoff series, but careless fouls have been sabotaging the Wizards. The Hawks are leading the playoffs with 33.5 free throws attempted per game, and they’re converting 25.8 free throws per game. The Wizards are sabotaging themselves by allowing twenty-six points from the charity stripe every game. It’s been fun listening to Paul Millsap and Markieff Morris trade barbs about the Wizards being so physical they’re “playing MMA” and Morris offering to up the ante by offering to play “double MMA”, but the numbers show that the overly physical defense in the paint has helped the Hawks more than the Wizards. The Wizards need to be able to play defense without fouling.
The Wizards need a big man to step up and play effective defense in the paint without fouling. Marcin Gortat has shown that he is unable to fill that role. Gortat is a reliable rebounder, as shown by the eighteen rebounds he grabbed last night, and he can make shots when they’re open, but his defense leaves something to be desired. Unfortunately, the one man who could fill this role is on the bench with an injury. Ian Mahinmi, who is the defensive counterpart to Marcin Gortat’s offensive capabilities, is on the bench with a left calf injury. He has been injured since April 10th and didn’t travel with the team to Atlanta, but he has a chance to return to the court for Game 5 or Game 6. Without Mahinmi on the court to protect the rim, Gortat and Morris must pick up the slack and play effective defense to keep the Wizards in the series.
The series comes back to Washington for Game 5, which bodes well for the Wizards, who feed off the energy at the Verizon Center. During the regular season, the Wizards cruised to a 30-11 record at home, but were less potent on the road as they posted a 19-22 record away from home.
For the Wizards to win the series, they’ll need to find scoring from players other than Beal and Wall, and learn how to play effective defense. Even if the Wizards are able to win the series, their defensive struggles will only be amplified against an explosive offense like the Cleveland Cavaliers.