Wizards can match up with Thunder's 'small ball'

Wizards can match up with Thunder's 'small ball'
January 31, 2014, 11:00 am
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For the Wizards, there's only one potential positive about the Oklahoma City Thunder, who own the longest active win streak in the NBA at nine games, coming to Verizon Center on Saturday. 

While the last time the Thunder played here it was Bradley Beal hitting the game-winning shot for a 101-99 victory a year ago this month, this visit is on the back end of a back-to-back. The Thunder play at the Brooklyn Nets, who have won eight of their last 10 games, on Friday night. 

If anything is certain about the NBA, it's that the schedule can be the great equalizer. The Los Angeles Clippers held off the Wizards (22-23) on Wednesday at Staples Center for a 110-103 victory. But then the Clippers had to play the Golden State Warriors on Thursday, and they were flat in a 111-92 loss. 

Regardless, the Thunder (37-10) have played three sets of back-to-backs and have put away elite teams such as the Warriors, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat during this win streak. Kevin Durant has been impossible to contain, scoring 30 or more points in 12 consecutive games. 

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And finally, coach Scott Brooks, who failed to make this simple adjustment in the NBA Finals two seasons ago in losing to the Heat, has gone small. He has sat the slower, plodding center Kendrick Perkins, a valuable screen-setter but a liability in defensive rotations vs. slashers and face-up posts who can pull him away from the rim. Instead, Brooks recently opted for a more agile and athletic lineup with Jeremy Lamb, 6-5, and then went to Perry Jones, who is 6-11. 

Fortunately for the Wizards, they can field versatile lineups that are long and can play "small ball," too. Off the bench, Martell Webster is a 6-7 forward with three-point range. Garrett Temple is 6-6 and can defend both backcourt positions. Little-used Otto Porter is a 6-8 forward but can be slotted in pending the matchups. The same goes for Jan Vesely, who hasn't played since Jan. 20 but is 7-0 and athletic. Then there's Glen Rice, a 6-6 shooting guard who recently returned from the D-League, has a big wingspan and a knack for blocking shots. 

Among the starters, John Wall is 6-4, Beal 6-5, Trevor Ariza 6-8, Nene a nimble 7-foot power forward and a mobile 6-11 center in Marcin Gortat. Both bigs can bury mid-range shots and show a soft touch around the rim. Lately, that also holds true for backups Kevin Seraphin at 6-10 and Trevor Booker 6-8. 

So while trying to contain a 6-9, long-armed three-point striker such as Durant can be a tall order, the Wizards at least have options with their personnel.