This week in Wizards: Yikes

By Zach Rice

“What the hell was that?!” – Stephen A. Smith

It’s safe to say that the past week for the Wizards was…suboptimal. In a week that seemed never-ending with horrendous defeats and negativity, each loss was more miserable than the last. The Wizards choked two games at home and got smoked in the others.

The first roller coaster loss was against the Raptors. After the Raptors took an 18- point lead in the fourth quarter, the game felt over. However, a 25–7 run sparked by Bradley Beal’s 13 points  tied the game at 102–102 with a minute remaining. However, a cold-blooded three by Fred VanVleet and a failed response by the Wizards led to the home team ultimately coming up short on what could’ve been a miraculous win.

Things didn’t get anywhere near better against the Celtics. Washington’s worst shooting performance of the year played a role in the 87-point clunker, however, the focus of the game was Jayson Tatum. A season-high 51 points from Tatum was enough to outscore the entire Wizards starting lineup. Besides Deni Avdija, not a single Wizard shot over 50% from the field.

On Wednesday night, history was made in DC. Just not the kind of history the Wizards will be all too fond of. After the Wizards started the game on a 17–2 run and an impeccable second quarter, Washington sat on a comfortable 31-point halftime lead. It was then I turned off the TV, happy that the Wizards ended a three-game losing streak. I was terribly mistaken. 

By the end of the third quarter, the lead was cut to 17. The Wizards did everything they could to give the Clippers the win from here on out. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Wizards lead had been slimmed down to just three. Yet again, Wizards fans felt like they had the win locked up after securing a six- point lead with 11 seconds left. 

Then, Luke Kennard happened. That is not a sentence I envisioned writing at any point this season. 

With nine seconds left, Kennard sunk a deep three from Annapolis to keep the Clippers alive. Of course, the Wizards followed that up with a five second violation, so the Clippers got the ball back with a chance to tie or go for a two and then foul. Drew Gooden, on the call, infamously said, “Don’t foul here, you can’t foul.” Beal fouled Kennard as he drilled a three, and sent him to the line to win the game. He converted the four-pound play, Kyle Kuzma threw the ball out of bounds, and the Wizards had officially blown a 35-point second half lead. Whoopity do.. 

Following the worst loss in team history, the Wizards got run out of Memphis by the Grizzlies. The Wizards got dominated on the boards 60–37, and despite Kuzma’s 30- piece, horrible efficiency from the rest of the starters led to a 20-point loss. It was, however, a thrill to watch Ja Morant. 

Here are three takeaways from a nauseating week for the Wizards:

The Clippers game…

After a loss like that, it is really difficult for a team to turn it around, which the Wizards have yet to do. First and foremost, the defense in the first half was unlike anything I’ve seen from the Wizards all year. The Clippers were scoreless for the first six minutes of the game and scored just 13 points in the second quarter. After that, however, the Wizards clearly called it a day, similarly to what the Chiefs did in the second half against the Bengals on Sunday. The difference in effort from Washington was very apparent. In the second half, the team’s defensive effort plummeted, and it felt like every offensive possession ended with a turnover. 80 points from the Clippers in the half, 40 in each quarter, and a lazy 49-point second half from the Wizards ultimately cost the Wizards an easy win. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse from here. A serious culture turnaround is needed in Washington, or else the season is in jeopardy. 

Daniel Gafford should come off of the bench

It is commonly viewed that coming off the bench is a demotion, but in Gafford’s situation, it could actually be a promotion. Every game, it feels like Gafford picks up early fouls and struggles with foul trouble. Giving him an easier matchup against a backup center, even just to start the game, would be a great resolution. Also, the bench defense has been atrocious. Montrezl Harrell and Thomas Bryant aren’t exactly elite defensive centers, and the bench lacks backcourt defense. Plugging Harrell into the starting lineup would give Gafford the chance to excel on the bench.

The Wizards can’t be scared to shoot

Perimeter shooting has been a weakness for the Wizards all season, however, it has been even worse as of late. A lack of confidence has been evident, especially over the losing streak. However, instead of veering away from the three, the Wizards need to start firing on all cylinders. Tommy Shepard drafted Corey Kispert 15th overall to shoot, and he paid Davis Bertans $80 million to shoot. So, let’s shoot. It’s time to get more creative on offense and start getting better looks from three. Kispert and Bertans, in particular, should be running around nonstop, and off-ball screens should be aplenty. All it takes is one game where the Wizards get hot from behind the arc to restore their confidence.

Hot take: This is the biggest week of the season

Coming off of five straight losses, the Wizards are faced with four challenging games next week that could make or break their season. All four matchups are against top 8 teams in the league,  and after last week’s debacles, they can’t afford to go 0–4. Two or more wins this week would be huge, especially in a muddled and wide-open Eastern Conference.