This week in Wizards: Walloped in the Wild West

By Zach Rice

After what seemed like a possible rebirth of a playoff push with the newly acquired Kristaps Porzingis, Washington’s playoff hopes have evaporated vaster than water on a plant on a sunny day. Washington is now five games behind the 10th-place Hornets with only 14 games remaining.

In the first of two games in the City of Angels, the Wizards fell to the Clippers 115–109 despite an efficient team shooting performance. They were outmatched by the Clippers, who shot 50% from behind the arc. Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris — who was just returning from whiplash courtesy of Nikola Jokic — propelled the Clippers offense by combining for 58 points in the win. 

In its second consecutive game at Staples Center, the Wizards took another L, this time to the terrible Lakers. Washington controlled the tempo and shot minimal threes to help them manufacture a seven point lead heading into the break. Unfortunately, the Wizards got away from what worked in the first half, and on top of that, LeBron James happened. The King dropped 50 points on 72% shooting, and was absolutely unstoppable. James’ 19 third quarter points, almost more than the Wizards combined, helped the Lakers get a much needed win.

One of the worst first half performances by the Wizards all year led to them getting embarrassed by the Trail Blazers in Portland. The Wizards gave up 72 points in the first half due to careless turnovers leading to fastbreaks and a noticeable lack of effort. The story of the game was a career-high 44 points from Josh Hart. Hart missed just six shots and was scoring at will against a horrendous Wizards defense.

To end the road trip, the Warriors dominated the Wizards in San Francisco. For the third straight game, an opposing player dropped 40+ points on the Wizards; this time, it was Steph Curry. Draymond Green returning led to Curry’s best game in months, as he had 47 points and seven threes. Once again, offense wasn’t the problem for the Wizards. Losing the turnover battle and putting up less shots was the reason for the Wizards loss, as it was for every other game. 

Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets put the icing on the cake by demolishing the Wizards in the District. The Nuggets took a 15- point lead early in the second and maintained that lead throughout the entirety of the game. The defense was unacceptable, especially against Jokic, as he had multiple wide open layups. Poor defense from Kristaps Porzigis led to extra help, and Jokic’s ridiculous playmaking helped create opportunities for teammates.  

On the bright side, the Wizards will likely have a lottery pick who hopefully can become an asset to the rebuild, and the young players are developing. Avdija, Kispert, and Hachimura had some of their best weeks of the year.

Here are three takeaways from a depressing week from the Wizards:

The defense has been atrocious

In every game this week, the Wizards conceded at least 115 points, which is simply inexcusable. Granted, it’s never easy to win cross-country games, especially against the Warriors, but it’s no coincidence that the defense is worse with the addition of Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis can’t be held accountable for allowing as many points as the Wizards did this week, but demoting Daniel Gafford to the bench and giving Porzingis more minutes has certainly made the Wizards defense worse. In general, the team just needs to do a better job at rotating and playing defense, along with pressuring the ball. All year, the Wizards have struggled to force turnovers and pressure ball handlers. Even though the man defense has been solid in one-on-one scenarios, a lack of help defense led to the performances by LeBron, Curry and Jokic this week. In the Wizards defense, playing with new rotations takes time to adjust. 

Shoot more three-pointers

In all four of the Wizards’ losses, they were out-shot from behind the arc, despite being pretty efficient. Corey Kispert and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are exceptional shooters, and they would thrive from more off-ball screens to create opportunities for them. The Wizards rank 29th in the NBA out of three-pointers attempted, at just under 31 shots per game. The top four teams in three point attempts per game are the Timberwolves, Jazz, Warriors and Bucks, so hopefully shooting more threes could lead to at least a fraction of the success that these four teams have had this year.

Rui Hachimura should get more playing time

In his third year in the league, Hachimura has seen his role and playing time decrease, but he played exceptionally this week and for that, he deserves more playing time. Hachimura scored at least 12 points in every game this week, despite only getting around 20 minutes per game. He was also very efficient over that stretch, as he only had one game where he shot below 54% from the field. His defense has improved as well, and as the Wizards have been struggling, Hachimura is deserving of more playing time.

Hot Take: Rui Hachimura should start…or anybody besides Raul Neto

Hachimura’s level of play off the bench has been impressive during the Wizards’ woes and frankly, I’m so sick of Raul Neto. Putting him on the bench would leave the  starting point guard role vacant, but KCP and Kuzma can handle facilitating the offense. Kuzma has improved his playmaking greatly as his role has increased, so letting him be even more involved in the offense and giving room for another efficient scorer in the starting lineup would be a test-worthy idea.