Wizards' big men defensive focus centers on Noah

Wizards' big men defensive focus centers on Noah
April 20, 2014, 1:45 pm
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So much about Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah's game stands out. The Wizards will experience his unique style in the best-of-seven first round playoff series starting with Sunday's Game 1 (CSN, 6:30 p.m.).

If we're talking aesthetics, his shot with both hands on the side of the ball is an oddity in an ugly duckling sort of way.

If we're talking offense role, it's rare that so much of a team's schemes run through a big man away from the basket. Noah's strong passing skills and high hoops IQ allows Chicago to do exactly that. The 6-foot-11 center averaged 5.4 assists, finishing the regular season as the only big man among the top 30 in the category.

"It's different, there is no question about it," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of how the Bulls use Noah. "It's not so much in the post as out on the floor. He's out on the floor handling it off the dribble."

This is on top of how the seven-year veteran handles opponents on the boards and at the rim. Noah averaged a career-high 11.3 rebounds this season along with a personal best 12.6 points. Many project the rangy shot blocker will be named NBA Defensive Player of the Year not to mention high on MVP ballots.

"He's had a heck of a year," Wittman said of Noah. "There's been talk of him being as the season wore down in the MVP vote somewhere. What he's transformed himself into, he's had a heck of a year. It's a tough matchup."

That proved oh so true when the teams met for the third and final time in the regular season on April 5. Noah finished with 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting, 12 rebounds, three assists and only one turnover in the Bulls 96-78 rout.

"I definitely that Noah is right now the best center in the league overall by the numbers with everything he does and everything he brings," Wizards center Marcin Gortat said following Friday's practice. "He's a hell of  rebounder, his offensive game is better and better, he’s a great passer, very good defender. He’s the heart of this team."

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The Wizards took the first two head-to-head games, both with Nene in the lineup. The Brazilian big man missed the loss while recovering from a knee injury. He played four of Washington's final five games and could start Game 1.

"He's a really smart player," Nene said of Chicago's leading man.

Those smarts help offset the Bulls lack of individual point-producing options. Chicago finished last in the league in scoring while holding opponents to the fewest points in the league.

The tough matchup Noah presents makes for an interesting chess match between the two head coaches, Wittman and Chicago's Tom Thibodeau.

With Nene's return from injury plus a suddenly deep frontcourt, Wittman has options.

"It's a different situation than a lot of five men experience, but we have a lot of different ways we can defend that from a personnel standpoint an get the guys that need to be down inside inside" Wittman said.

That final point references Gortat. Though he can roam away from the basket, ideally Gortat anchors Washington's back line defense. The 6-foot-11 center led the Wizards in rebounding (9.5) and blocked shots (1.5) while averaging 13.2 points.

When Noah sets up shop on the high post or beyond, the Wizards can send Nene his way while leaving Gortat to contend with Carlos Boozer or Taj Gibson in the paint.

Of course, Gortat wants his shot at the All-Star.

"I like challenges like that. It’s going to be a huge test for me to stop him," Gortat said. "I also have to be aggressive to make sure I go at him. I’m excited to play against him. It's going to be a great matchup. It’s also an opportunity t fight for my respect."

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