Quick Links

Wizards know wins against East foes like Indiana are extra important

Wizards know wins against East foes like Indiana are extra important

There are are two months until the playoffs begin and 29 games left for the Wizards to play before their regular season schedule runs out. A lot can happen between now and then, both good and bad. To assume they will earn a playoff spot is premature at this point, as easy as the postseason is for fans, media and players alike to dream about.

But there are also games over the course of a season that matter more than most, ones that invoke the big picture, no matter how they are described in the language of coach-speak. And Friday night was one of those games for the Wizards, a showdown with Indiana Pacers, the sixth-ranked team in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards currently sit third, meaning they would face the Pacers if the playoffs began today.

Even more important than that dynamic is the fact the conference itself is so bunched up. The Wizards are two games out of second, but the Pacers are only three games behind Washington. Tiebreakers could come into play in April and head-to-head season series records are at the top of the tiebreaker list.

After Friday night's 112-107 victory over the Pacers, the Wizards hold a 2-1 advantage in the season series with the finale coming up on Feb. 16. Was all of that lost on the Wizards? Of course not.

It is super important. We take it seriously," shooting guard Bradley Beal said. "That is something that is in the back of our head. At this point of the year, you are looking at seeding. You are looking further down the line at playoffs, and where you want to be and what the match ups are going to be potentially so we just take it a game at a time, a series at a time, and try to get them all.”

"We came into this game talking about that, we knew it was going to be very important," point guard John Wall said. "It was a big win against them, but we have them again next week so its going to be a big game to try and win the whole series against them. They're a tough team, they're a great team at home. We just have to keep playing well and defending." 

[RELATED: Markieff Morris not cool with 'Phoenix Outlaws' nickname]

Center Marcin Gortat addressed the next matchup in more detail. The Wizards really want to take three of four and avoid a split in their four games against the Pacers. He knows the Pacers will have the playoffs on their mind.

"The hardest thing right now is that we're going to play against this team in a few days again and they are definitely come out ready to play. They're going to try to punch us back for what we did here at home. It's actually a really hard situation for us," Gortat said.

The Wizards hold a winning record against four of the seven other teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They are 2-1 against the Pacers, Hawks, Celtics and Bulls. They are 1-1 against the Pistons, 0-2 against Cleveland and 0-1 against Toronto.

The playoffs remain far off in the distance, but it's not too early to begin thinking about what could help the Wizards down the road.

[RELATED: 5 must-see moments from Wizards' win over Pacers]

Quick Links

Wizards' three-point defense continues to stand out as a major weakness

Wizards' three-point defense continues to stand out as a major weakness

With the 30th-ranked defense in the NBA, the Wizards have more than one issue on that end of the floor, but lately what has stood out most is a familiar problem.

Three-point defense remains a major weakness for the Wizards, who have had trouble guarding the perimeter going back to last season. It killed them in their overtime loss to the Heat on Wednesday night, as Miami made 17 threes and shot 51.5 percent on their 33 attempts. 

We can focus on Bradley Beal's late-game misses, or the free throw shot disparity. But the biggest reason the Wizards lost to the Heat was their inability to prevent three-point shots.

Even the guys everyone knows can shoot found little resistance. Tyler Herro made 7-of-9 from long range, Duncan Robinson hit 4-of-7 and Kelly Olynyk went 2-for-3.

If your goal is to stop the Heat, who are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA, from making them, you circle those names at the top of the scouting report. The Wizards knew it was coming and still couldn't stop it.

This came two games after the Toronto Raptors made 22 threes against the Wizards, the third-most ever allowed in their franchise history. And on the season, the Wizards currently allow the ninth-highest three-point percentage (36.9) and the sixth-most threes made (12.3) on average.

Last season it was also an issue, as they gave up the fifth-highest three-point percentage (34.1). Much of their personnel is different, yet the same problems persist.

The Wizards may not be able to do much about it this season, barring major changes at the trade deadline. They are only going to be so good at stopping threes with Isaiah Thomas as their starting point guard. Backup Ish Smith, though much more mobile than Thomas, is also at a size disadvantage.

They are simply going to be limited by the way their roster is constructed. In the front office's defense, they had to change a lot last offseason and couldn't fix it all. They made the Wizards younger, more financially flexible and a more efficient offensive team. But they didn't do much to fix the defense and, in fact, it has gotten worse by almost every measure.

Defense will clearly be a major priority going into this summer, if their current pace continues. There will, however, be no easy fix for their three-point defense.

They will need to get a more defensive-minded point guard, assuming Thomas doesn't come back. Maybe John Wall can help their cause when he returns. He is a former All-Defensive selection with the size and length to be a good three-point defender. But he hasn't exactly been consistent in that department throughout his career.

These days, three-point defense is about much more than guards. Teams can roll out lineups with five players who can stretch the floor. The Wizards will need to add big men to their rotation who are nimble enough to man the perimeter.

Perhaps the best way the Wizards can plug some holes in their three-point defense is by their young forwards learning how to be more disruptive. Their two most recent first round picks, Troy Brown Jr. and Rui Hachimura, each have plus wingspans and have flashed solid defensive instincts. The Wizards need them to be able to step out and alter outside shots.

It will be a challenge for general manager Tommy Sheppard and the Wizards front office as they go into this summer trying to take the roster to another level. When healthy, the team has shown they can score. But they don't play defense anywhere close to good enough to be a winning team.

What they have to do is figure out a way to infuse the team with capable defenders without sacrificing much in the way of their offense. They won't be able to cure all of their ills overnight, but they could start on the perimeter.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.


Quick Links

Bradley Beal still feels 'disrespected' by referees

Bradley Beal still feels 'disrespected' by referees

Back in December following a tough loss to the Clippers, Bradley Beal's frustration with the referees boiled over. 

"Honestly, [my frustration] is out the roof," Beal said that night. "It really is. It's really unfair and unacceptable that they allow a lot of stuff to go on with me out there and I do not calls. Period. It's just unacceptable."

Everything for the Wizards' offense this season starts and ends with Beal, and while he's averaging career-best scoring numbers, he remains frustrated at how he doesn't get to the foul line enough. 

In a 134-129 loss to the Heat Wednesday night, Beal went off for 38 points on 16-24 shooting to go with nine rebounds and four assists. He only had four free throw attempts, resulting in another postgame riff about how he and his team aren't officiated the same as others. 

“It’s kind of sad the way we get disrespected," he said. "Especially myself getting disrespected like I do because I attack the basket.”

Among 32 players who average at least 20 points, Beal ranks ninth in free throw attempts per game. The Wizards themselves are 14th in the NBA in free throw attempts per game. 

What had Beal particularly upset was not getting the whistle when he aggressively attacked the basket in the game's final moments.

"You can look at my last three drives and I got fouled on all three of them," he said. 

The NBA doesn't typically tolerate players and coaches openly criticizing referees after games. Beal knows he could be fined for his comments, so it shows just how frustrated the two-time All-Star is with how he's being called this season. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.