Pistons dictated tempo of play vs. Wizards in season opener

October 31, 2013

(Associated Press)

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Newly acquired Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat flattened Detroit Pistons guard Chauncey Billups with a screen, setting John Wall loose, and quickly cut to the basket. Wall then leapt and fed Gortat. The execution of that simple pick-and-roll was perfect, but what followed was not.

Gortat lunged at the basket, determined to throw down a dunk when the Pistons’ Josh Smith, showing even less fear, soared high above the rim to catch the ball at the height of Gortat’s jump and slapped it in the opposite direction.

“If he goes strong to the basket like that all the time,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Gortat, “I’ll live and die with a blocked shot at the rim.”

Wittman has no problem with his players being aggressive and making the right decisions, but he has low tolerance for what he witnessed most of Wednesday night, when the Wizards lost, 113-102, in their season opener against the Pistons.

The Wizards lost track of their identity on both ends of the floor and had the tempo and flow of the game dictated to them. They didn’t play with the appropriate urgency until the Pistons had already gashed them inside and built a 15-point lead.

“We were playing catch-up and that is one thing that you do not want to do, especially in somebody’s home opener,” Wall said. “Fans are into it and when you get that close, the fans get them right back into it.”

The Pistons had an elaborate production for player introductions before the game, with rising jumbo screens, smoke and lasers. Washington’s players avoided the theatrics, heading back to the locker room until the show was finally over.  When the game finally started, the Wizards forced two turnovers and scored five quick points, but for the rest of the half, Trevor Ariza was their only reliable option on offense and the defense was porous inside.

In the first half, the Wizards shot 37.8 percent while allowing the Pistons to make 56.1 percent of their shots. Wittman blamed many of the problems defensively on an offense that seemed disorganized and hurried.

“Offensively, I thought we were really bad in the first half,” Wittman said. “The shot selection was terrible, which led to easy breakouts and open transition. We got beat in every category. We’re taking shots that guys shouldn’t be taking. [Detroit] built up a good cushion and we were fighting out of hole. ”

Wall had six assists but he also took 12 of his 21 shots in the first half, diving headfirst into the Pistons’ trap of giving him all of the open jumpers he wanted. If he aspires to make the playoffs and possibly make the all-star team, Wall will have to develop the discipline to take the shots he wants to take and not the shots that other teams want him to take. No matter how much his jumper improves, Wall’s opponents will would prefer a pull-up from 18 feet and beyond over a mad dash to the basket.

“I didn’t do a good job leading my team,” Wall said.

The Wizards won’t face many front lines comparable to the Pistons, who have 7-foot and freakishly-athletic center  Andre Drummond, 6-10 post-up forward Greg Monroe and 6-9 shot-blocking forward Josh Smith.

Gortat, the 6-foot-11 center the Wizards acquired last Friday from Phoenix in exchange for Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract and a protected first-round pick, was still trying to understand the intricacies of the offense after having just three practices with the team. With Gortat still learning, Wittman decided to start Trevor Booker at power forward alongside Nene. But Wittman might have been better served to start the Polish big man as a physical counter.

Gortat was a little out of rhythm when he entered the game late in the first quarter. Greg Monroe blocked Gortat’s first dunk attempt and Gortat flubbed a layup before he finally settled down in the second half. Gortat made a baseline jumper and continued to attack, even after Smith blocked his dunk attempt. He finished with nine points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes.

“He did really well. When we lose it doesn’t matter who plays really well. We’re supposed to shine as a team,” Nene said. “We didn’t do good enough so it doesn’t matter who played good. That’s what I think.”

Detroit shot 50 percent and scored 56 points in the paint, primarily because they attacked the middle and started knocking down three-pointers once the floor opened up. The Wizards took the opposite approach by settling for jumpers and not going back inside. Gortat and Nene combined for 21 points on just 12 attempts.

Trevor Ariza carried the Wizards offensively, as he connected on six three-pointers and scored 28 points. Ariza and Bradley Beal combined for eight of the Wizards’ 10 three-pointers, but Martell Webster, the team leader in three-pointers made and attempted last season was limited to just one shot – a made three-pointer – in his 21 minutes of action.

“I think early on, everybody has got to feel the ball,” Wittman said. “I think we didn’t do that in the first half, or much at all. I think that put us behind the eight ball. You’ve to realize who’s hot, who hasn’t had a shot. Who do we need to get open?”

Wittman would’ve preferred a win but he will have a lot to show his players during Thursday’s film session. The Wizards play their home opener on Friday night against the 76ers.

“We didn’t play our best so we have a lot of potential,” Nene said. “We didn’t play together. We need to start the beginning of the season with confidence. Play the right way. That’s what playoff teams do, play the right way.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · October 30, 2013