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Wizards' problems late deeper than who gets last shot

Wizards' problems late deeper than who gets last shot

Until the Wizards figure out how to close games, the question about whether or not John Wall or Bradley Beal should be taking the last shot will come up time and again. But it's bigger than that and more about what happens in the waning minutes as the offense goes stagnant.

The Wizards found themselves ahead 99-92 with 3:10 left to the Oklahoma City Thunder just as they were ahead two nights prior to the Sacramento Kings. It was 91-86 with 2:24 following a three-point shot from Wall. In both games, however, the Wizards had to go into overtime. 

While they beat the Kings 101-95, they were steam-rolled 21-10 in the extra session in a 126-115 loss to the Thunder. 

Wall ran a pick-and-roll with Markieff Morris (19 points, seven rebounds) and got a mismatch when Jerami Grant switched off. Wall appeared to have a floater or finish at the rim possible, with Russell Westbrook switching onto the 6-10 Morris. Wall tried to make a last-minute pass that almost was stolen and Otto Porter found the loose ball and missed the potential game-winner. Against Sacramento, Wall ended regulation by taking a difficult jumper that had no chance of going in. 

"They were so focused on me, they were leaving guys open," said Beal, who had a team-high 31 points on 10-for-21 shooting in a game that the Wizards fought back from a 16-point hole in the first half. "They weren't helping off me so John just kept running high pick-and-rolls and we kept hitting Keef on the roll. They weren't guarding it. I don't mind that. I probably got to be more aggressive and go and get the ball."

The Wizards (6-11) blew their chance to win at Chesapeake Arena for the first time in franchise history. Wall had a chance to win a game on the final shot there in overtime in 2013 when he missed in the lane as Jeremy Lamb struck him over the forearm and didn't get the call. 

Their record this season is 1-2 in overtime. At the end of regulation in their first overtime loss, Wall made a bad read vs. the Memphis Grizzlies in the second game this season. He didn't get off a quality look as he went into the teeth of the defense without a screen to set the table. And the Wizards were ahead 96-88 with 3:17 left in that game.

Maybe fatigue is playing a factor, too. In the last six games, Beal has played 40, 40, 38, 38, 41 and 42 minutes. Wall has played 37, 38, 39, 37, 43 and 44.

"It's tough playing 40 minutes a night, having to come back and play all these tough teams all over again," said Beal, who'll have to play at the San Antonio Spurs on Friday. "I think they'll die down eventually. I think we'll get rolling. I think it's just a matter of us getting over this hump. We're right there. Our effort is there. We're playing defense the right way, the way we want to. The offense is there. We just got to put it all together now."

Closing games is difficult to do. As the leaders of the locker room, Wall and Beal have done most of the heavy-lifting. They need help. In the end though, teammates will look at them to make the right plays and the confidence they clearly lack in the clutch.

"This," said Wall, "is probably the most difficult one of the season, being up seven with (three) minutes to go."

[RELATED: Takeaways from the Wizards overtime loss vs. Thunder]

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The same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

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USA Today

The same day the Mystics clinched a playoff spot, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own

Ladies and gentlemen, it doesn't get much better than this. 

The same night the Mystics clinched a playoff spot with an 86-79 win over the Minnesota Lynx, Natasha Cloud made some history of her own.

With 8:25 left in the first quarter, Cloud hit an open Elena Della Donne who finished strongly at the basket. With the pass, Cloud became the franchise's all-time leader in assists. 

Drafted by the Mystics back in 2015, Cloud has been integral to the team's rise to the top of the standings. She's averaging a career-high 5.4 assists and 8.8 points while leading the team in minutes at 32.3 per game. 

Needless to say, her teammates were excited for her. 

Hopefully, this magical season will finish with a championship, redeeming the Mystics of their 2018 Finals loss. 

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As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

As Monumental Basketball gets underway, Mystics are leading the charge

Monumental Basketball, the new vertical that encompasses the NBA's Wizards, the Capital City Go-Go of the G-League, the Mystics of the WNBA and District Gaming of the NBA 2K League, is designed to help all of the respective teams owned and operated by Ted Leonsis and his partners. The Mystics, though, don't need nearly as much assistance as the others.

Sitting atop the WNBA with a league-best 18-7 record, the Mystics look well on their way to another deep playoff run. Last year, it ended in a loss in the WNBA Finals. This year, they have an even better roster capable of winning it all.

On Wednesday, the Mystics routed the Seattle Storm, last year's champions, by 29 points. They did so despite missing All-Star point guard Kristi Tolliver and with their best player, Elena Delle Donne, scoring 14 points. They might be the deepest team in the WNBA with a bench that is starting lineup-caliber.

The Mystics have already arrived, but it took some time to get here. When head coach and general manager Mike Thibault took over in 2013, they had won 11 total games the previous two years. Five years later, they were title contenders.

Leonsis wants to see the same upward trajectory for his other teams. Thibault believes the new program can help everyone get on track.

"The overall structure can be so good when you are inclusive and you have services that are available to everybody," Thibault told NBC Sports Washington. 

"I think that one of the things that I learned in trying to rebuild the Mystics is that you need a lot of hands to make it work. I go back to the days where you had a head coach and one or two assistants. The game has changed so much. If you can make a player coming in, whether it’s to the Mystics or the Wizards, feel like they are a part of something bigger."

Thibault, 68, knows what good organizations look like, as he has been a part of many over the years. He was a scout for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s during their dynasty. He later worked for the Chicago Bulls and oversaw the scouting department when they drafted Michael Jordan. It wasn't until the 2000s that he joined the WNBA ranks, first with a successful run as coach of the Connecticut Sun before coming to Washington.

Thibault believes the player services arm of Monumental Basketball will be particularly helpful.

"Let’s say you’re traded to the Wizards. You’re coming from a different city and it’s a new environment. Your family has to move and you have kids. That’s a whole thing in and of itself," he explained.

"What can we do for their post-career ability? Do they want to be a coach? Do they want to go into broadcasting, or business? There are so many things you can do to enhance how comfortable a player and a family is coming to an organization. It’s something that just makes you special as an organization."

Thibault says some of benefits Monumental Basketball will provide have already been utilized by the Mystics, including mental health professionals and nutritionists. What can help the Mystics in particular is more synergy with the Wizards.

This is the first season the Mystics are playing at the new arena at St. Elizabeth's in Southeast Washington. They now share a practice facility and office space with the Wizards. Thibault believes there are positives to feeling part of a larger operation.

"I think our players already sense that," he said. "You see Wizards players, you see Tommy Sheppard and others at our games. That makes you feel like you’re a part of a bigger thing. We have a dining room where all of the players can socialize in both of the organizations."

When the creation of Monumental Basketball was announced, Leonsis noted Thibault will have a certain level of autonomy in what he does. Some of the executives hired by the organization like John Thompson III, who will help with player wellness, and Dr. Daniel Medina, who will assist in training and health, will provide services to the Mystics. But Thibault will pick the players and set the vision for basketball operations.

Thibault, though, knows Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard well and thinks the team is in good hands.

"He’s got ideas. He’s very forward thinking. I think he’s a great judge of personnel and character. I think he’s very thorough in what he does," Thibault said. 

"I think that when you’re trying to build an organization, there are process you have to go through and steps you have to take to be good. I think he knows you have to have patience to do that. I think if fans give him the chance to do what he’s great at, they will see the results over time. It might take time, but he will get them there."

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