Wizards

Wizards Looking Likelier Than Ever to Lock Up Last Place

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The Washington Wizards tasted relief nine days ago with consecutive wins, but shorthanded personnel have plunged the team into its weakest stretch of play yet. And there have been plenty of dreadful options to choose from, given the team’s league-worst 11-57 record.

This 2024 squad’s fate will be indelibly tied with the Detroit Pistons, a pair of tankers who spent the season laughing at the others’ losses while holding near-identical records. The remainder of this competitive league has sat back and enjoyed this dubious rivalry unraveling for months, with the laughter only amplifying when the Pistons overcame a 28-game losing streak to eventually beat the Wizards to 10 wins. 

Detroit managed to jump Washington in the standings thanks to a particularly brutally scheduled February, a month in which the Wizards didn’t face a single team at or below .500. A 16-game losing skid touched three different months before the hapless home team finally caught a break against the similarly flat Charlotte Hornets, where the Wiz barely dodged a new franchise record for the longest streak of defeats by capping the schneid at 16.

Fans desperately craved a win, making that Charlotte victory that much more of a relief. This particularly weak draft cycle has taken away the usual desire to snag record at the bottom, as Washington waited a year too late to make serious considerations for Victor Wembanyama. Wins seemed tantalizingly close across the shortened month, with the Wizards consistently coming up a few possessions short in the fourth quarter.

They somehow topped that elation two days later, catching the competitive Miami Heat off-guard in a tight, 110-108 squeaker. Sure, the Wizards conceded an 8-0 run to their opponents in the final two minutes and only survived after two separate Heat players missed makeable game-winning three-pointers before the buzzer sounded.

But a win is a win, and the Wizards showed real heart matching up against Miami’s rugged frontcourt while starting Kyle Kuzma at center.

The Wiz have since squandered any life that the brief gasp of victorious air could have provided them with, as they’ve kickstarted an all-new four-game slide in the week since. But while the Pistons have busied themselves losing in agonizing fashion and dropping winnable games in the final seconds, the Wizards have rolled over and seemingly accepted their place at the 30th spot on the NBA’s food chain.

The once-tight defeats against the league’s titans that peppered February have been replaced by decisive losses at the hands of unimpressive competition. They drew Memphis for their first post-Miami game, but somehow suffered a double-digit defeat despite the injury-depleted Grizzlies trotting out a roster of G Leaguers. 

A golden opportunity to keep the good times coming went up in smoke as poor shooting and effortless defense allowed Memphis to steal a rare victory of their own. That set an ugly tone for their next trio of games, where blowout losses to the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls set the stage for a butt-whooping by the domineering Boston Celtics, who discarded the Wizards by first quarter’s end.

The Wizards have shot 46% from the field and 32.9% from three-point land over those last four outings, both marks poor enough to land them in the bottom third of the rankings, but it’s been their defense that’s been the real aberration. They’re surrendering 123.4 points per 100 possessions, the second-worst defense in that brief span and bad enough to land them with a clear league-worst net rating of -20.7.

Much of this diminished play stems from Washington’s February stars seeing watered down stats or missing completely. Kuzma is still showing up to work, but he and Jordan Poole have scored in spottier patterns than ever before. It’s tough when they have little help, as Deni Avdija, Tyus Jones and Bilal Coulibaly have each suffered at least one absence over this recent stretch. Kuzma himself joined them on the IR with a bum ankle when his team hosted the Celtics, forcing the Wizards into throwing together a starting lineup for the ages.

So much of Washington’s problems stem from their lack of personnel, evidenced in Anthony Gill, Eugene Omoruyi and Jules Bernard each playing extended minutes, but the biggest culprit for their lack of recent success has stemmed from their on-court mentality. A longer injury report has resulted in bench players receiving bigger minutes, but no one is leaving skin on the floor in exerting their effort. 

The Celtics crushed the Wizards 130-104 Sunday night, demonstrating the divide between two teams with nearly inverted records who looked to be playing in separate leagues. Jayson Tatum going off was a given, but the Wizards allowed Sam Hauser to drill 10 three-pointers on 13 attempts. They don’t have anyone who can frighten opponents on either side of the ball, and the players appear to want this season to end as badly and quickly as the fans.

About Henry J. Brown

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