The Washington Wizards have been one of the NBA’s most frustrating teams this season. After making the Eastern Conference Semifinals a year ago and pushing Boston to seven games, Washington was expected to be near the top of the East again with pretty much the same group back as Boston and Cleveland underwent major roster changes.
Instead of that continuity leading to consistent quality, the Wizards have been maddeningly inconsistent. The Wizards are 19-16, good for fifth, but the list of teams they’ve lost to compared to some of those they’ve beaten is confounding. Washington has losses to the Suns, Mavs, Nets (twice), Lakers, Hornets, Clippers and, most recently, the Hawks.
The best example of their Jekyll and Hyde nature came over the past two games, as the Wizards beat the Celtics in Boston on Christmas and then lost to the lowly Hawks by 14 on Wednesday night. After that Hawks loss, star point guard John Wall explained what’s going wrong for the Wizards when they play lesser opponents and why he thinks they look so different.
Wall told Candace Buckner of the Washington Post that the Wizards’ problems stem from guys “playing for stats” when they go up against worse teams, which in turn leads to disjointed play and losses.
Wall doesn’t seem to be just trying to rip his teammates, but voice a general frustration that he has with others on the team and (possibly) himself with their approach to games against bad teams. He’s not alone in seeing this as an issue. Buckner notes the team has discussed this internally (although, not sure if a players-only meeting or an overall discussion) and Bradley Beal admits its a problem he and others are dealing with in not moving the ball enough.
“Sometimes we need to do that. Sometimes even myself included,” Beal said. “Sometimes we do one-pass shots, no-pass shots. Two or three passes on one side of the floor versus moving on both sides of the floor. Teams are going to load up on me and John. That’s something that we should know by now. We got to do a better job of creating, putting the ball on the floor and moving it.
“I think everybody as a collective unit, starters and the bench, we’ve got to do better at it,” Beal continued.
The Wizards came into the season with high expectations and its clear this team bought into their own stock a bit too much. For a team that’s not so much as made a conference finals, they’ve appeared to feel entitled to their top 4 spot in the East and Wall wants that to change.
With the history in Washington, there’s always concern at moments like this that the locker room might fracture a bit, but Wall and Beal are now veterans and it seems Beal is on the same page as well. If that’s the case, the Wizards have shown that when at their best they can compete with the best. The question now is whether they can more consistently put forth the effort and focus needed to dispatch the lesser teams of the league to assure themselves of that position as a preferred seed in the playoffs and then put together consistency in seven-game series.