A quick numeric summary of the 2017-18 Washington Wizards: They are 10-5 against teams with a .500 or better record. They are 5-8 against teams that lose more than half their games.
That kind of headache-building fluctuation is what has trailed Washington since the start this season. Each time it appears set to get going — say, after four consecutive wins against mediocre teams that otherwise caused it problems — it flops. That push was followed by losing four of five. This is the express route to 15-13, where the Wizards stand following their second and final West Coast trip of the season, which was capped with a sluggish home game Wednesday night.
The question for Washington is why such fluctuations occur with regularity. Part of the answer is that it does not deal with human nature well. LeBron and Cleveland? The Wizards are revved for that. A broken-down Dallas team with Dirk Nowitzki in his twilight in front of another mediocre home crowd? That juiceless combination trickles into their play often.
“Sometimes we play teams that their record doesn’t show they’re good enough [for us to focus on],” Bradley Beal said. “We come out on our heels and just take them for granted. That’s pretty much the difference. We always get up against teams that are good. It’s kind of a natural thing. You kind of think that every game you play a subpar team, it’s going to be easy. That’s not the case. Everybody’s a pro. We all have the same job. We all have the same goal in mind.”
It was suggested to John Wall that this has happened the last couple of seasons, and he was asked if he knows why.
“Last five, six, seven,” Wall corrected. “I really don’t. If I knew, I would say it a million times. I say the same thing over and over when I talk to the media. Probably tired of hearing it. That’s how it seems to go with this team at times.”
There are underlying numbers that suggest the Wizards could soon, if healthy, put together a surge akin to last season when they put together a 17-game home winning streak. Coming into Thursday, Washington was 11th in offensive rating (just 0.1 out of 10th following an ugly offensive performance Wednesday night) and 10th in defensive rating. The other teams that are in the top 11 in both: Golden State (22-6), Houston (22-4) and Toronto (18-8). Washington is a mere 15-13.
Which leads to a discussion about what glass an observer is drinking from. The half-full consumer can argue that Washington is two games over .500 despite Markieff Morris and Wall missing several games, plus that the underlying numbers hint at a good team currently masked as a mediocre one. The half-empty observer can argue about numerous blown double-digit leads, the poor record against inferior teams and general malaise the team appears to operate with on occasion are true reflections of its status.
“We have leads but we do not do a great job of stepping on teams’ throats and just trying to get these teams out of the way,” Wall said. “We have these leads and we kind of get away from moving the ball and stop taking good shots, and we let these teams back into the game.”
That’s not what the other teams that share dual offensive and defensive success do. Golden State, Houston and Toronto all close games efficiently. Or, they establish a double-digit lead and carry it for most of the night. In the last three games, Washington has trailed in games it once led 13 and 17 points. It won one and lost one. Both were against sub-.500 teams.
The Wizards are in a place where a reset can happen. Wall returned Wednesday night after missing nine games because of left knee soreness. Morris (ankle/hip/groin) and Ian Mahinmi (knee) sat out Wednesday night. Both have a good chance to play Friday. Morris said after the game Wednesday that he would be ready to play Friday. Mahinmi said he would go through a hard individual workout Thursday, when the team was off, to make sure he is ready to play Friday when the Clippers come to the District.
In all, Washington is yet to get its act together from front to back.
“We know what our starters have to do,” Wall said. “We have to bring a lot better intensity for our team. When we do not have that sense of urgency, then our bench has been stepping up and giving us that, so we have to find a way to balance it both together. When the starters are playing well, the bench usually does not play well. We have to find a way to get all of us to play together on one page, and when we do that I think we can be a deadly team, and then we have an opportunity to go on a run like we did last year.”
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