For the Salem Capitals, last weekend truly was a tale of two (visiting) cities. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Friday and Saturday’s games against the Wenatchee Bighorns and Seattle Super Hawks were polar opposites. First, a 26-point win for the Capitals on Friday where they led for all but just under one minute.
But on Saturday, the Capitals led the Super Hawks for just 27 seconds following the opening bucket.
“It was a contrast to yesterday, but I think we were just careless with the basketball and we lost control of the ball at times,” Capitals head coach Kevin Johnson Jr. said. “There was nothing more than that. They’re a pretty athletic team, we knew that coming in, but we just have to play better.”
Smith’s double-double leads Capitals past Bighorns
Efficient, balanced scoring and a solid showing inside helped the Capitals open the weekend with a 122-96 win against the Wenatchee Bighorns.
Mauricio Smith’s double-double of 17 points and a game-high 12 rebounds gave the Capitals the boost they needed.
“I challenged him today, I told him that I needed him to rebound,” Johnson said. “Today I told him I needed him to get double-digits in rebounds and he did that.”
The Capitals aren’t a big team, especially with 7-footer Jason Conrad sidelined. But Smith was dominant on the glass Friday night.
His six offensive and six defensive rebounds were game-highs in each category.
“I know that we’re a little undersized, so being one of the bigger guys on the team I try to take it upon myself every night to attack the glass offensively and defensively,” Smith said. “See if I can make extra possessions, see if I can make something happen.”
As a team the Capitals had 20 offensive rebounds, and those extra possessions led to 24 second-chance points.
They shot 47% from the field, and 12-for-32 from beyond the arc. It was their best shooting night of the season since the opening week against New Foundland, where they had games shooting 44% and 46% on 3-pointers.
“Those were shots we were getting. I would say probably five of those were forced, but other than that I feel like all the other ones we had were good shots, we just happened not to make a bunch of them,” Johnson said. “I’ll live with that. We pushed the ball in certain parts, so I can live with that.”
Preston Whitfield’s 22 points off the bench led the Capitals. He was one of five to score in double-figures for Salem, as all 11 Capitals that saw the floor had at least one made field goal.
The Capitals have had a balanced offensive attack all season. Six players average double-figures in scoring with a seventh, Domo Lawrence, just under at 9.6 points per game.
“If teams have to guard everybody then it makes it hard each night for them to stop us,” Johnson said.
Wenatchee on the other hand struggled from the floor, especially from beyond the arc, shooting just 20% on 3-pointers.
“We played pretty good team defense and they didn’t shoot too many wide open shots,” Johnson said. “I feel we contested open shots that they took. They missed some shots, but I think it had to do with us playing pretty good defense.”
The Bighorns had four score in double-figures, but only one player shot above 50% from the field. Gamaun Boykin, who had a game-high 31 points, finished 14-for-25 for Wenatchee.
“If one guy gets beat it’s not just one guy, it’s all of us,” Johnson said. “If someone goes to the basket there should be help there. My goal is to not be beat one-on-one, one guy beating us, it’s going to take a team.”
Super Hawks hand Capitals first home loss of the season
On Saturday, it was a team effort from the Super Hawks in their blowout win against the Capitals. The 142-97 loss was the second most points the Capitals have allowed this season and the second largest margin of defeat.
Despite the result, Johnson wasn’t convinced the difference was anywhere near what the score reflected.
“Even after the lopsided victory I don’t think they’re better than us,” Johnson said.
The Super Hawks held a clear size advantage heading into the game, with four players over 6-feet-6-inches. Meanwhile the Capitals have just one player on the roster measuring over 6-feet-5-inches, but Johnson’s 7-footer in Conrad was sidelined.
But that wasn’t the deciding factor in Johnson’s opinion.
“Right on the paper it shows that they’re taller than us, but I don’t think that was the issue today,” Johnson said. “I think it was a lack of effort. Defensively I feel like we didn’t put the same effort that we put in yesterday, and I knew that coming into the game that was going to be a big part of it.”
It was a balanced offensive attack for Seattle with seven players scoring in double-figures. Five different players scored on the first six baskets for the Super Hawks as they quickly jumped out in front.
The Super Hawks shot nearly 60% from the field and 42% from 3-point and dominated the Capitals on the glass, out rebounding them 48-28, a stark contrast to the previous night’s game for the Capitals against Wenatchee.
“They got more open looks than Wenatchee got,” Johnson said. “Defensively we just weren’t there when we needed to be. Defensive transition was a big part of what happened and that let them get a lead.”
Things really began to unravel for the Capitals in the second quarter.
The Super Hawks extended their lead to 29 in the quarter, and emotions and frustrations began to spill. Johnson was whistled for a technical foul following a defensive three-second call against the Capitals.
“I didn’t say that the referee was terrible, I didn’t say his call was terrible, I just said ‘oh that’s terrible,’ and he gave me a tech,” Johnson said. “I feel as though these referees don’t like me because I played last year and yelled at them all the time.”
Statistically the Capitals numbers were down across the board from Friday’s game against Wenatchee.
They turned the ball over 22 times, leading to 26 Seattle points. The Capitals shot 41% from the field, 35% from 3, and a dismal 68% from the free throw line.
With more than seven minutes to play in the third quarter the Capitals were in the bonus, but couldn’t take advantage at the line. They went to the line just four times in the quarter, going 4-for-8 from the line, with two of those makes coming from a shooting foul.
Johnson knows what needs to be fixed, his focus on one-on-one and team defense, boxing out and limiting second chance points — that staples of most coaches.
And they’ll get a chance soon.
“We know that we need to apply pressure early,” Johnson said. “Towards the end of the game we picked it up and made things a little more difficult for them. We play them again next week, we travel to them. It is what it is, we got another chance.”