Following the team’s first short break of the young season after a hard-fought, grueling loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night, the Washington Wizards come home to Capital One Arena on Wednesday night to host the Houston Rockets for their home opener at 8 p.m.
The Wizards had a tough road test to start the season, going 1-2 with a loss to the up-and-coming Dallas Mavericks, a win over the offensively powered OKC Thunder, and a heartbreaking loss to the veteran-led, well coached San Antonio Spurs in the final seconds of regulation. The start to the team’s home stand doesn’t get much easier, as they host yet another offensively minded Western Conference opponent, the 2-1 Rockets, coming off a 116-112 over James Harden and Russell Westbrook’s former stomping grounds, Oklahoma City.
Key to Victory:
I’ll start with the obvious: Stopping James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
That’s a task much easier said than done. So how will it be done? This is a match up that was once much better on paper just a couple seasons ago, when the Wizards had the height and defensive ability from both it’s starting PG, John Wall (6’4) and backup PG, Tomas Satoransky. (6’7) Both had been effective in match-ups with Russell Westbrook in the past, mostly due to their size, and forcing him to take contested jumpshots rather than finishing easily at the rim. The Wizards no longer have that luxury, with point guards Ish Smith (6’0), Isaiah Thomas (5’9), and Chris Chiozza (5’11) making this matchup even more difficult than it would already be.
I expect the Wizards to put Bradley Beal on Harden or Westbrook, as well as either Isaac Bonga or Troy Brown Jr., who Scott Brooks said on the Kevin Sheehan Show Tuesday morning will likely make his season debut, on the other. This would leave Ish Smith to cover former Wizard Danuel House, who is much less of an offensive threat than the two superstars beside him. I also expect the Wizards to play a lot of zone, specifically when Isaiah Thomas enters the game. We saw a lot of this in the loss to the Spurs, and a bit in the two games prior to that, which is very rarely used in today’s NBA. However, I believe with Thomas being somewhat of a liability defensively in match ups with both Westbrook and Harden, Brooks will look to try his best to hide that weakness and force Westbrook into shooting three’s in the zone.
The majority of the Rockets gameplan is pretty simple: Get as many shots off as you can. The Rockets look to get shots off in about six seconds or less in the Mike D’Antoni system, and the majority of those shots are coming from Harden or Westbrook in isolation, or shooters being set up from them out of the iso. They also thrive off their speed on the fastbreak. The Wizards must try to limit turnovers on offense to stop the break from getting started in the first place. Playing in a zone you can also expect a lot of offensive boards to be given up, however they must try to limit the second chance points from their role players like Clint Capela and PJ Tucker if they want to win this game. Stopping Harden and Westbrook is hard enough, letting their role players have strong games makes winning that much more difficult.
Match-up to Watch For:
Thomas Bryant vs Clint Capela
I stated the obvious in the previous section so I’ll spare you with the Bradley Beal/James Harden clash we all expect to see. What I really want to watch is the match-up between Thomas Bryant and Clint Capela at the Center position. This duel will be intriguing due to the fact that they are very similar types of players in style, both are extremely athletic big men who thrive off of setting strong screens, rolling off the screen, and finishing at the rim. Bryant has been one of the key parts to the Wizards already in his second season with the team, and through three games appears to be taking a leap into the next level as a player. In his first three games he has averaged 15 PPG, to go along with 9.7 RPG. More importantly, he looks as though he has also taken a step in the right direction on the defensive side of the ball, averaging 1.7 BPG. This is an area that Capela has the edge in however, averaging 2.7 BPG, and has always been a threat inside on both sides of the ball. Where Thomas Bryant has the edge over Capela, however, is his ability to space the floor. Bryant will look to draw him out of the paint by using his improved three point touch he has worked on over the past few offseasons. While Bryant is shooting just 30.8% from three thus far, I expect those numbers to increase heavily over the next few games, especially Wednesday night against the Rockets.
Story to Watch For:
The Possible Return of Troy Brown Jr.
About four weeks prior to the Washington Wizards season opener, projected starting SF Troy Brown Jr. came down with a strain in his left calf, leaving his time-table for return set at about four weeks. Brown Jr. was sidelined for the preseason, and missed each of the first three games of the regular season. But as stated before, Scott Brooks believes the 20 year-old, second year pro will make his season debut Wednesday night.
Troy Brown Jr. had moments of promise as a 19-year old rookie last season, but due to the direction the franchise was headed in at the time, shooting towards an eight-seed that was far out of reach instead of developing young talent, he was forced to the bench by Brooks for the majority of the year, not even cracking the rotation until there was only a few games left in the season. With a new change in direction, and the team emphasizing the development of its young talent, it is expected that last year’s first round pick will play a large role on the team this season.
Brown Jr. was expected to start the season with CJ Miles having surgery on his foot in July, and only 19-year-old Isaac Bonga there to take minutes. We will see whether Brooks elects to immediately add Brown Jr. to the starting lineup over Bonga, or if he decides to ease him into action off the bench. He could possibly be on a minutes restriction as they hope to play it safe in the development of one of their talented young prospects. If Brooks feels he is full go, we could even possibly see him get some minutes at PG, with this being a matchup that could benefit some size at the position. We saw Troy Brown Jr. run some PG last season, and even more again in the NBA summer league. He thrives with the ball in his hands and is an excellent passer, so his versatility could come into play Wednesday night.