Mathematically, the Wizards are still alive when talking playoffs. The appropriate sporting cliche here is to suggest their season is "on life support" after another brain-dead performance in Saturday's loss to the Denver Nuggets, showing an inability to defend something as elementary as the pick-and-roll for the second game in a row.
The goodwill they'd earned coming out of the All-Star break, when they won 7 of 9, is gone. They not only blew an 11-point lead late in the third quarter but allowed the reserves of a team that's 10 games under .500 to score 41 points in a furious fourth-quarter comeback.
While teams above the 10th-place Wizards (30-35) continue to stack up the victories, notably the Charlotte Hornets with seven in a row and the Indiana Pacers on a three-game win streak, this team has dropped five in succession. Each one gets worse, from the 25-point shellacking to the vulnerable Cleveland Cavaliers, a one-point loss on late free throws to the Pacers, an overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that they had multiple chances to win and then the disaster in losing at the Utah Jazz on Friday.
The last two are to losing teams, which to be fair are teams just like the Wizards. To match last season's win total of 46, the Wizards have to go 16-1 to end the season with meetings left with the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers during a five-game road trip.
The pick-and-roll coverage has been beyond abysmal though this is hardly the first time that problem has reared its ugly head. Last season, when the Wizards were getting shredded by the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors during the regular season, it was largely because they had no clue on how to defend the action.
John Wall had an informal, after-practice summit with Marcin Gortat, and coach Randy Wittman and Nene joined in, for a spirited discussion last season.
Instead of being better from that experience with most of the same personnel -- after all, the Wizards swept the Raptors in the postseason and pushed the Hawks to six games by rendering their guard play ineffective -- somehow the Wizards have regressed.
The Wizards led 83-75 going into the fourth quarter in Denver, but were victimized by the high pick-and-roll that started a comeback. Just a sampling:
- D.J. Augustin executed the action perfectly, getting around Ramon Sessions and the pass to Jusuf Nurkic for a layup.
- Augustin went away from the screen from Nurkic to drive, Wall tried to help Sessions to slow down his penetration but the ball went out to Wall's man (Will Barton) for a three.
- Augustin accepts the screen from Nurkic, gets ahead of Sessions and floats a difficult bank shot over Nene.
- Nurkic sets the screen on Garrett Temple, dives to the rim for Augustin's pass and dunks over Nene who is a step late on the rotation.
Four of the first five field goals the Wizards allowed in the fourth were via pick-and-rolls. They'll say all the right things going into Monday's game vs. the Detroit Pistons, that they need to focus, to not take an opponent lightly because of the name on the back of the jersey or that they're going to put forth more effort.
While incremental changes can be made to improve, it's probably too late in the season to actually fix anything this broken. If they can finish one game above .500, and even that's a stretch at this point, that would be an accomplishment.