Bradley Beal: 'We play harder when we're down'
MIAMI -- Only four teams in the NBA have yet to win a game entering Tuesday, and the Wizards are one of them.
The Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics are the others, but there are five other teams that were in the playoffs a season ago that have losing records. The Miami Heat, who won their second consecutive championship, are just 2-2 after beating the Wizards on Sunday. The Memphis Grizzlies, who made the West finals, are a .500 team as well.
So how worried should the Wizards be at this stage? With 79 games left in the season, declarations that it's over aren't just premature but laughable. By that logic, just cancel the rest of the season and let the Philadelphia 76ers face the Indiana Pacers in the East finals and the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves meet in the West finals. And the Heat would be a No. 4 seed or possibly lower.
The NBA isn't like the NFL. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and even championship contending teams will have their valleys. It's just a question of when they hit them and how long it takes them to climb out.
It's certainly true that the Wizards don't have much margin for error in the early part of their schedule. They have a road game vs. the Sixers on Wednesday (CSN, 7 p .m. ET), Sunday at the Oklahoma City Thunder (CSN, 7), Nov. 12 at the Dallas Mavericks (CSN+, 8:30) and Nov. 13 at the San Antonio Spurs (CSN, 8:30). They end the month with road games Nov. 27 at the Milwaukee Bucks (CSN+, 8) and two days later at the Indiana Pacers (CSN, 8). Get out of November with a .500 record, or just under it, and that would be considered a small success.
In the Wizards' opening loss to the Detroit Pistons, they were on the road against a team that's much improved. Losing that contest isn't a disaster. And expecting them to win at the Heat, who were on a two-game losing streak and had LeBron James hitting step-backs from three-point range, is a bit irrational. The Wizards, however, should have beaten the Sixers in a game they dominated for three quarters.
Realistically, they should be no worse than 1-2 right now even with the playoff expectations. Some of what has gone wrong, though this is certainly not everything:
Nene. He has missed two of the last three games because of a left calf strain he had in Detroit. Given how Marcin Gortat played in Miami, when he had 15 points and 11 rebounds, it would've been something to see the matchup problem he might've created for the Heat. Even without Nene, the Wizards had a 21-10 advantage in second-chance points and a 41-32 edge in rebounding, and that included plus-nine on the offensive glass.
The free agents. Al Harrington and Eric Maynor have yet to pay off. Harrington is only averaging 3.7 points. His inability to hit the open shot -- and he had his share vs. the Heat -- was costly when the Wizards had a chance to climb back into it. He missed all six attempts, including three three-point shots, and didn't grab a rebound. Maynor is averaging just four points and three assists and doesn't appear to be fully in sync with his new teammates.
Interior defense. In their first two games, the Wizards allowed 130 points in the paint. Gortat, who is still learning the system, was admittedly late on rotations. At times, the Wizards are clearly disjointed and are a far cry from the top 10 scoring defense they were a season ago without Emeka Okafor, who was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Gortat. Having Nene also would could help in this area, but he'd much rather bang with Sixers power forward Thaddeus Young rather than Pistons center Andre Drummond.
Bradley Beal. He's off to a terrible start, shooting 16-for-50 for 32%. He, too, missed wide-open looks vs. Miami but helped lead a late surge to cut the deficit.
Foul shooting. In their last two games, the Wizards are 29 of 44, just 66%. They've lost by 11, seven and 10 points so this hasn't been an issue of note yet. If it continues, however, and costs them a close game then it will be. Guaranteed.
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