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Washington Wizards Preview: Q&A with Bullets Forever

Amin Vafa from Bullets Forever was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Wizards before they take on the Mavericks tonight.

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The Wizards were pegged by many as team that could find itself in the playoffs at the end of the season. However, early play has been less than auspicious. What is going right and what is going wrong?

I think this whole question starts and ends with John Wall. His preseason numbers were less-than-stellar (he admitted this himself), and I think that bled into the first couple games of the season. But in Washington's two wins this season, Wall has looked like the man that earned a 5-year max extension. He's a distributor, he's aggressive getting to the basket, and his jumper has started to fall. That has opened up the floor for the rest of the team, and it has been keeping opposing defenses honest.

One thing the Wizards are doing exceptionally well so far is hitting 3s. John Wall, Trevor Ariza, Bradley Beal, and Martell Webster are all shooting lights out from behind the arc. How is the team setting up their 3-point looks?

Let me just say as a Wizards fan, it is great to watch a team that's setting up great 3-point opportunities. For too long, this team was the King of Settling for Long 2s. But as for how they get these opportunities, I think it's alarmingly simple: penetration into the paint and kick out to capable shooters. With Nene, Marcin Gortat, and Kevin Seraphin, the Wizards have bigs who can finish in the paint (and have respectable mid-range jumpers). With Wall dashing to the basket, you've got a guy who can zigzag through defenders for an easy layup. If your defense decides that it doesn't want to let up these easy points, there are guys sitting in the corners who are more than capable of nailing a shot they've been practicing a thousand times per day.

Marcin Gortat was almost a Maverick a few years ago before Otis Smith, the Magic's GM, matched Dallas' offer sheet for the then restricted free agent. Just before the season started the Wizards traded for the Polish Hammer. How is Gortat performing and how could the trade affect the future of the organization?

It's always a bit tricky to make a big trade like that right before the season starts. Gortat was slow to make a concerted impact with the team--part of that was him coming off the bench, and part of that was him not yet playing alongside Nene until recently. But now that the team has had more practices and more games, it's becoming clear that having a skilled "true" center in the paint is vital to this team's long-term success. Just the luxury of having someone who can score 15+ points per night without a play being run through him, plus someone who can pull down 10+ rebounds can make a huge difference on the margins. He's clearly become a vital piece toward this team's push towards the playoffs.

Wall, though still young, is working his way up the point guard ladder in the league. Slowing him down will certainly be a goal of the Mavericks. However, the Mavs' backcourt of Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis isn't the most daunting defensive duo. Shawn Marion will likely defend Wall at times because of this. What mismatches do you see taking place in this game?

Wall's speed is definitely his greatest advantage, so any way that he can use it to blow past defenders will help keep the Wizards' game plan on target. If Marion is defending him, then his goal will most likely be to cut off Wall's passing lanes more so than to slow him down. This could potentially prevent the number of corner 3s taken by the Wizards. However, if the team anticipates the Mavs trying to cut off his passing, the Wizards will have to step up their "hockey assist" tertiary passing abilities to get the ball to open shooters in the corners. Either that, or Wall's going to have to get Marion into foul trouble really quickly.

This game has the makings of a shootout written all over it. What are the keys for the Wizards if they hope to come away with a win?

The Wizards need to embrace the defensive tenacity that made them a respectable outfit in the second half of last season. They need to close out on shooters, and they really need to prevent easy baskets at the rim. Emeka Okafor was the team's defensive anchor in the paint, and his absence has been notable. Also, if there's any way for the Mavs to keep Dirk and Monta in the locker room for the entire game, I think that'd be great.