March 23, 2018 | Capital One Arena | Washington, D.C.
On the night that The Legend Phil Chenier got his No. 45 jersey retired and unveiled in the rafters, the Washington Wizards were outplayed by the Denver Nuggets and were handed their second loss in a row. The Wizards are now firmly, for now, in the six-seed, 1.5 games back of Philadelphia and Miami as well as 1.5 games ahead of Miami. With ten games to go and only three games back of the No. 3 seed, lots can change, but not if the Wizards’ game does not.
(Photo: Ned Dishman via Getty Images)
Poor Three-Point Defense
Coming into Friday’s action, the Wizards were the second best three-point defense in the NBA by holding their opponents to 34.2 percent from the field. Only the disciplined Celtics are better at 34.1 percent. Washington, on average, only surrenders 10 three-pointers on any given night, but gave up a season-worst tying 17 three-pointers to Denver. To make matters worse, it was on an extremely efficient 50 percent shooting from deep. The road team was a miserable 39.2 percent (20-51) inside the arc. Baltimore native Will Barton had five triples as did Jamal Murray and some of them were completely unacceptable.
“Those are mistakes that we can’t make,” head coach Scott Brooks said about his team incorrectly going under screens. “Especially late in the game and you can’t make them. We made them throughout the night and it’s always magnified at the end of the game. We made the same mistakes in the second quarter.”
“It’s more effort,” Ramon Sessions said when asked if going under screens was a mental or effort lapse. “We were talking about it all day. He [Jamal Murray] was the one guy that we wanted to blow up, as in going over the screen to start the game. It was a lot of off the ball that he was playing with [Nikola] Jokic at the point. It was one of those things that we got to play with the effort and knowing who guys are coming into the game. We knew he was hot coming into the game. We just got to for 48 minutes, bring that urgency.”
Turnovers And Blocks Limit Offense
In the first quarter, Washington only managed to scrape together 16 points because of a poor 33.3 percent shooting from the field, but the real culprit was five turnovers. They finished with 17 turnovers in the game that led to 19 Denver points and also had 10 of their 80 shots blocked. Some of those blocks came at the end of shot clocks with desperation heaves that essentially served as turnovers, too.
“The bottom line is that they made bigger plays than us and we turned the ball over 17 times and we got our shot blocked [ten] times,” Brooks concluded. “It’s hard to score when that happens. We just have to play better. We have to play with more spirit [and] we have to take some pride in our home court.”
Third Quarter Comeback
Early in the third quarter, Washington found themselves down 14 points after back-to-back three-pointers from Nikola Jokic. The Wizards then proceeded to go on a 26-11 run with Otto Porter knocking down back-to-back three-pointers to match. Markieff Morris proceeded to score 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting to compliment three dimes in the third frame after beginning the game 0-5 from the field. Bradley Beal also got going with three three-pointers. Washington fought their way back, but seemingly ran out of energy as they were unable to build their lead to more than a single point after intermission.
“Didn’t like it a whole lot in that third quarter,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said about the Nuggets defense. “I think they hit seven threes in that quarter but you know that they were going to make a run. They’re a playoff team. They’re a good team.”
No Point Guard Lineup, Again
From 7:16 to 3:39 left in the second quarter, the Wizards went without a point guard. During that stretch, the deficit grew from six points to 13. Immediately after Tomas Satoransky returned to the game, Washington went on a 7-0 run. With 2:54 left in the game, Satoransky sat again in favor of Marcin Gortat, to matchup with Jokic, as Kelly Oubre played with the starters. Washington did not score for two minutes and a two-point deficit went to seven and the game was essentially over. Beal is a great player and deserving of his All-Star status, but too often Washington relies on him to do too much and it leads to exhaustion that likely leads to the inefficient shooting in the clutch. The ball doesn’t move and the offense pays.
“No, I trust coaches, I trust our coaching staff that we are putting the best options on the court,” Satoransky said about being benched late in halves. “To be honest, last two games, I’ve was kind of struggling and in the beginning, but then I found some rhythm in the second half. I can’t be mad because I’m trying to see from their perspective. They are trying to make something to work.”
Can Washington Walk The Walk?
It is easy to talk about the need to play with more urgency and intensity, which the Wizards did plenty after another disappointing loss on Friday night. With ten games left and a potential first round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers starring them down the barrel, they must now put their money where their mouth is and show some fight instead of limping into the postseason. John Wall’s return, which begins on Saturday with his first contract practice, will help, but not solve the identity problem with this team of at times not trying their hardest for 48 minutes in a game, night in and night out.
“I’d just say the urgency,” Sessions singled out as the missing ingredient. “Playing with that chip, you know, that swag that this team is known to have. Me, coming in new, but watching this team over the course that I wasn’t here, they always had that swag about them. It’s a long season. Obviously it’s 10 games left. We got a couple guys with nagging injuries here and there, but nobody cares about that. At the end of the day, it’s something that we just got to put together. It’s in us.”
Next Game: Washington will host the New York Knicks on Sunday night in what they need to treat as a must-win game, not because their season depends on it, but because their mindset once they enter the playoffs will.