Behind the Buck Pass editors Nick Whalen and Cole Brown answer a five-pack of questions leading up to Wednesday’s game.
1. After a strong close to the 2012-13 season, the Wizards were expected to compete for a playoff spot in the East, but at 5-8 they don’t appear to be vastly improved. What is the biggest issue holding this talented team back?
Nick Whalen: Much like Cleveland, Washington is built around a playmaking point guard surrounded by good but not great players. Brad Beal, Nene and Marcin Gortat are solid, but given Wall’s erratic shooting the supporting cast isn’t talented enough to compensate. That said, if Wall – the reigning player of the week – continues to put up big scoring and assist numbers this team could very easily work its way into the lower tier of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Cole Brown: The Wizards have thus far been stifled with a similar issue the Bucks are facing; unfamiliarity. Washington, like Milwaukee, has a plethora of youth as well as an almost brand-new roster. In their last few games, however, the Wizards have been playing more team-oriented basketball and are showing signs of improvement. The Bucks, on the other hand…
2. In Monday’s loss to Detroit, Milwaukee got off to a painfully slow start and found itself down 38-18 at the end of the first quarter. Sluggish starts have been an issue all season, and Milwaukee has trailed after the first quarter in each of the past three games. What can the Bucks do to avoid falling behind early against Washington?
Nick: It’s difficult to point to one specific thing as the root cause of the Bucks early-game problems, but the primary issue against Detroit on Monday was turnovers. Obviously, taking care of the ball against a team with a point guard as talented as Wall in the open court will be huge, along with controlling Gortat and Nene inside. After shooting just 48 percent last year, Nene is back up near his career average of 55 percent this season, while a rejuvenated Gortat is averaging 12.4 points and 9.6 boards.
Cole: Limit turnovers. Early turnovers in each of the past three games have resulted in easy transition baskets for the opposition, as well as unfavorable momentum shifts for the Bucks. Take care of the ball, make some shots, and don’t dig yourself into an early hole.
3. John Wall is shooting just 41.1% from the field and with his backcourt mate, Brad Beal, out of the lineup, he’ll be expected to take on an even greater share of the offensive burden. What will be the key to containing Washington’s best player, who’s shooting a career-high 34.1% from 3-point range (26.7% last season)?
Nick: Containing Wall has always meant keeping him as far away from the basket as possible. Sure, his 3-point shooting has improved, but it’s still not to the point that he’s considered a major threat. Wall’s mid-range game is still a mess, but if defenders play too far out, he’s proven capable of scoring at the rim or drawing contact. He’s riding a streak of three consecutive 30+ point games and is 21-of-23 at the line over the past two games alone. Whether its Mayo, Middleton or Knight tasked with defending him, the key will be baiting Wall into jumpers.
Cole: Help defense. It’s highly unlikely any of the Bucks’ three point guards will be able to single-handedly contain “Johnny Basketball”. Milwaukee’s defense rotations are going to have to be sharp to prevent Wall from getting his close or mid-range opportunities, where he’s a lethal scorer.
4. The streaking Bucks have dropped nine games in a row. Will Washington bring the streak to double-digits?
Nick: Washington is riding a bit of momentum having won four of its last five, and clearly Milwaukee is trending in the opposite direction. I really don’t see the Bucks putting an end to the streak tonight despite the absence of Beal. It’ll be closer than the past two blowouts, but this Milwaukee team is a mess right now.
Cole: All signs point to yes. The Bucks, simply put, are not playing good basketball right now.
5. Extra Credit: It’s week two of Milwaukee’s free shirt promotion. How do you feel about this week’s “Wiskullsin” design?
Nick: Of the four designs this one is definitely my least favorite. Would I wear it? Yes. Would it make me feel like I need to go to an MMA event? Also yes.
Cole: It’s my least favorite of the four designs, but I’d probably still wear it. I’m not sure what that says about my sense of fashion.