The Washington Wizards got to the All-Star break at 14-20 after a miserable bad luck 6-17 start but have since lost their first three games of the second half where they vowed to be better. The parity in the Eastern Conference still gives Washington every opportunity to make a move if they can find the consistency that Bradley Beal has yearned for, but they can ill afford to continually hurt themselves in the fourth quarter.
No one expected the Wizards to beat a healthy Milwaukee Bucks team without Bradley Beal (rest from left knee soreness vs. Memphis) and Davis Bertans (right calf tightness vs. Philadelphia), but a 42-point triple-double special from Russell Westbrook and arguably career-best performance from Rui Hachimura gave Washington a great chance. Westbrook exploded in the fourth quarter for 16 points and assisted on Washington’s other eight points in the frame, but Hachimura got stuck at 29 points that he had through three quarters despite decent looks on all four of his misses in the fourth quarter.
With his season-high and most three-pointers since playing in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook knocked down his fifth shot from deep to tie the game at 119 with 41 seconds to play. Eight seconds later and Khris Middleton drew a foul on Deni Avdija going up for a quick jump shot that the Wizards know is his specialty so there is a little bit of blame on Avdija for getting anywhere remotely close to the cookie jar.
Scott Brooks has rarely used his challenge this season and sometimes having to burn so many timeouts at the start of games is to blame. The NBA’s Last Two Minute report confirmed Brooks’ eyes that had him thinking Avdija did make contact on the elbow, but even in a low success likely challenge maybe the referees give you a beneficial call next time. Uncoincidentally, Brooks and Westbrook both wanted a foul call against Middleton on the next possession as Westbrook attacked the rim but missed a game-tying layup.
The Wizards really did not want to put a near 90 percent free-throw shooter in Middleton back on the line, which is fine, but they did a terrible job executing. Westbrook and Brooks were expressing their frustration with the no-call to lead official Tyler Ford as Middleton walked the ball up burning at least eight seconds of the remaining 26 before Westbrook got Deni Avdija’s attention to come double. But there was no urgency from Westbrook to help form an effective trap and staying with Middleton once the pass to Giannis Antetokounmpo was off. Sure, the Wizards can complain that Hachimura and Avdija both committed take fouls to put Antetokounmpo, a sub-70 percent free-throw shooter, on the line and the referees swallowed their whistle allowing a pass back to Middleton, but Westbrook left Middleton wide open for it. The Last Two Minute report said that was indeed a missed foul call by the officials, but that brings the Wizards little joy after the fact. Ill-affording any more precious seconds from running out, Avdija fouled Middleton, he knocked down both free throws, and the Bucks won.
Washington’s 23rd loss has not been their first where they were outplayed and out-smarted in fourth quarters turning a possible win into a definite loss. Early season games against the 76ers, Magic, and Bulls were all winnable and inexcusable to come out of 0-5. More recently the collapse in Boston before the break remains hard to fathom. With just 35 games left, nine games under-.500, and tied for 12th in the East, the Wizards will continue to dig their own grave if they continue to execute poorly late in games which starts with Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook, and Scott Brooks.