Offense isn’t the problem for the Washington Wizards, forward and candid mouthpiece Jared Dudley reiterated in a sweltering visitors’ locker room at Chesapeake Energy Arena late Monday night. The Wizards had just scored 98 points in a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, enough to win on most nights, after netting a season-high 123 in a victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday. The problem is they were not able to prevent an opponent from scorching their defense again.
“Defensively, we’ve been bad for a couple weeks, maybe even a month,” Dudley said.
Through 46 games, the Wizards (21-25) rank 20th in the NBA in defensive rating after finishing fifth last season. They have surrendered 100-plus points 30 times after 33 all of last season, including 10 of their past 11 games following a four-game winning streak. The Wizards’ defensive troubles on Monday, players explained, stemmed from poor rotations. They were usually incorrect or unassertive. The mishaps produced easy baskets for a talented Thunder roster that pounded the Wizards on the boards when shots didn’t fall.
That spells doom for Wednesday night, when the Golden State Warriors (44-4), masters of pace-and-space in the NBA’s pace-and-space age, take their historic soul-crushing act to sold-out Verizon Center a day after visiting the White House as defending champions.
“We got one of the best teams arguably in NBA history coming in,” Dudley said. “If we keep playing the way we are, they’re going to score 150.”
While the Thunder runs an isolation-heavy offense through Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the Warriors dissect teams with impeccable ball movement and pummel them with an unmatched array of shooters — a devastating combination if a defense cannot execute simple rotations.
The Thunder is last in the NBA in passes per game. The Warriors are fourth. And they’re first in assists (29.3), secondary assists (9.5), potential assists (52.4) and points created with assists (70.7). The unselfishness plus unrivaled shot-making — Golden State ranks first in three-pointers made (12.9) and three-point percentage (42.8) — fuels an offense that ranks first in offensive rating at 113 points per 100 possessions — 3.2 points ahead of the second-ranked Thunder.
“We got to defend with pride,” Wizards point guard John Wall said. “We know they want to take a lot of threes, but they’re also a team that can finish in the paint. They’re not just guys that want to spot up and shoot. They can make plays off the dribble. It’s what makes them tough to defend.”
The Warriors are not just an offensive juggernaut. They also rank second in the NBA in defensive rating, holding opponents to 98.9 points per 100 possessions. Blend the components and you have a team tied for the best 48-game start in league history with the 1967-68 Philadelphia 76ers and on pace to surpass the regular season record of 72 wins by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
“It was kind of like when I was at Kentucky,” Wall said. “We were everybody’s Super Bowl.”
Golden State employs arguably the two best shooters in the world in reigning MVP Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Curry has the green light from seemingly everywhere beyond the mid-court line. He is averaging a league-high 29.4 points per game while posting preposterous shooting percentages; he is shooting 50.6 percent overall from the field, 45.1 percent from three-point range on 10.7 attempts per game, and 91.4 percent from the free throw line. Thompson is the second option. The two-time all-star scored a record-breaking 37 points in a quarter last season and 45 points against the Dallas Mavericks just last week.
And Draymond Green, their third all-star and versatility trump card, benefits when Curry and Thompson draw attention. The starting power forward and anchor at center for the Warriors’ devastating small lineup, the 6-foot-6 Green is a dynamic playmaker who is often unleashed off pick-and-rolls to prey on helpless defenses in four-on-three situations. Then there’s a loaded assortment of role players, headed by NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and prospective prized free agent Harrison Barnes.
“We need to get better with our rotations, because when it comes to pick-and-rolls and that kind of thing, the team we’re playing is the best at it,” Dudley said.
The Warriors have their flaws. They rank just 19th in defensive rebounding percentage and 21st in turnover percentage. But that’s about it. They usually appear unstoppable and routinely crush opponents — 30 of their wins have been by double digits. They have become the hottest ticket in NBA cities around the country, dazzling road crowds with a show they have not witnessed before.
Of their four losses, only two have come with Curry, Thompson, and Green available, and one, on the road to the Milwaukee Bucks, came on the night after a double-overtime win in Boston. That leaves one loss with their big three and at least a day of rest: A 113-95 road defeat against the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 16. They haven’t lost since.
“They’ve shown why they’re the best shooters in the league,” Wall said. “They’re able to knock down shots. But I think they’re a beatable team. Every team is beatable in this league. You just got to take things away from them, which is easier said than done when we get on the court.”