LOS ANGELES — Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) The 1-5 Wizards are worse than you think. Watch the Wizards play and what is wrong grows more and more obvious. It’s not the defense — although it’s terrible, the Wizards are allowing 114.5 points per 100 possessions this season (26th in the NBA and 6.9 worse than they gave up last season). It’s not their three-point shooting, although the Wizards are hitting just 31 percent from three as a team. It wasn’t even that the Wizards got blown out by the Clippers 136-104 Sunday night.
It’s not the statistics at all.
Watch Washington in person and the team’s lack of chemistry is painfully obvious:
• When Bradley Beal slipped and went to the floor in the second half, it was Clipper Tobias Harris who helped him up because no Wizard teammate came over to. There were two other similar instances I noticed Sunday night where the Clipper player helped a Wizards player off the floor because teammates did not rush over to do so.
• When the Wizards took the court to start the game there was almost no interaction among players — Otto Porter was talking to the referee because that was the only person willing to talk to him.
• Clippers players seemed to be more concerned when Markieff Morris went down with an elbow to the face than the Wizards (Morris left the game with a concussion).
The Wizards are clearly playing for themselves and not each other, not the team.
“That was the first thing Scotty [Brooks, Wizards’ coach] said after the game,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said. “He said, ‘Man, your guys are just, watching them, you just feel the energy and you just feel them. They get along.”
Washington’s John Wall and Bradley Beal have spoken before about guys playing for themselves and their stats, not sacrificing for the team, and that theme — on the court and in the locker room — carried over into Sunday.
“Just gotta go out there and compete,” John Wall said. “We play like a team that’s 5-1 and people are just going to lay down, we got to play with a sense of urgency that we’re 1-5 now…. “When you play the game of basketball you can’t worry about how many points you got, how many steals you got, how many assists you got, it’s just competing.”
Beyond the chemistry, of all the on-court problems, nothing is going to change until the defense improves.
“Our defense is horrendous…” Austin Rivers said. “You’ve got to have personal pride. You’ve got to get mad when someone scores on you. We’re not the Warriors.”
“Just heart. Just heart and pride,” Wall said of what it will take to fix the defense. “Guard your man one-on-one, that’s really the main key. We gotta do a better job of switching — when we do do that, like we did in the first quarter, I think we played the best we have played for a while.”
The switching trend in the NBA is giving the Wizards problems on both ends.
“On offense when we get (a switch we like), we take a bad shot sometimes and bail those guys out,” Wall said. “When they put us in bad situations, we gamble too much or don’t stay on the play and get a stop… we do a good job of it in practice, but we have to bring the same competitive edge we have competing against each other in practice to playing someone else.”
Washington’s play is ugly and coach Scott Brooks could pay the price with his job if things don’t improve. He certainly is not faultless in all this.
However, the Wizards have changed coaches before. They have changed players around on the periphery then spun it as trying to fix chemistry issues (Marcin Gortat going to the Clippers is the latest along those lines). Everything changes except the core, and yet the same problem exists.
Which means maybe it’s getting to be time for the Wizards to take a fresh look at that core and if it works.
2) Does firing of Tyronn Lue mean Cavaliers realize it’s time to go all-in on the rebuild? Last July, when LeBron James decided to head west, the Cavaliers brain trust decided to pivot to… nobody is sure what exactly. They wanted to walk the very fine line of a rebuild on the fly — compete now while building for the future — and they fell off that tightrope.
This isn’t a team built to win now, not with Kevin Love leading an aging roster constructed to support LeBron — Tristan Thompson, George Hill, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver. They are not a group built to create great looks and rack up wins on their own. There’s a reason Vegas set the under/over on wins for the Cavaliers this season at 31.5.
It’s also not a rebuild in Cleveland. How many players on the Cavaliers are younger than 25? Four. Just four — Collin Sexton, Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Sam Dekker. Guys we think of as young — Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood — are all 26 and closer to their prime, and they all come with questions.
Sunday Lue paid the price for a 0-6 start and a sense among the front office in Cleveland they needed to go another direction, a coach better suited to a young team (even if the Cavs are not yet htat).
That start, however, was not about Lue. It’s about a team in limbo. The Cavaliers need to pick a path. Rebuilding would make the most sense.
Play Colin Sexton more and live with the at times painful learning process. He’s got real potential, but he’s still adjusting to the speed of the NBA and settles for far too many long twos.
More importantly, it’s time to start working to trade the veterans and getting pieces for a rebuild back (picks and prospects). There will a market at the deadline for Kyle Korver — a shooter on a fair contract, $7.6 million this season and with a $3.4 million buyout for next season. George Hill is overpaid this season ($19 million) but he is a solid point guard when healthy and come the deadline there could be teams willing to take the hit this season knowing he has a $1 million buyout next season. J.R. Smith, at $14.7 million this season (with a $3.9 million buyout next season) will be harder to move because, without LeBron, teams are not sure how much he will help them.
Love is the big piece to move, but with his new contract it’s a lot harder. That is probably a next summer move — but it’s one they need to start moving toward.
3) Oklahoma City gets first win of the season. When you’re busting out of a slump, you don’t care where and how it happens. So what if the Phoenix Suns were on the second night of a back-to-back? Who cares if they didn’t have Devin Booker?
What matters is Paul George and Russell Westbrook scored 23 points a piece and the Thunder got their first win of the season, 117-110.
Westbrook was doing Westbrook things all night.
Also, don’t sleep on Nerlens Noel, who had 20 points and 15 boards.