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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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5 observations about the Wizards at the midway point of the 2019-20 season

5 observations about the Wizards at the midway point of the 2019-20 season

The Wizards' 29-point loss to the Raptors on Friday night was the 41st game of the year, meaning Washington's 2019-20 regular season is officially halfway through.

With that in mind, here are five observations from the season so far; some expected and some unexpected...

They are who we thought they were

In some ways, this season has gone exactly how most thought it would. Bradley Beal has been an All-Star level player, but poor defense and an inexperienced roster around him has led to a team headed safely towards the lottery. They are 13-28 after 41 games, meaning they are on pace to win 26 on the season.

That's about what Vegas predicted, as evidenced by over/under win totals that stayed around 28.5. And that's what most reasonable forecasts had them being; a team with intriguing talent that was probably a year away from contending for the playoffs again.

Sheppard has found some guys

The early returns on the Tommy Sheppard era are good and that should be seen as one of the most important positives of this season so far. Just look at the gems he has acquired in a relatively short period of time as general manager. He drafted Rui Hachimura, a plug-and-play guy, with the ninth overall pick. He got Davis Bertans, Moe Wagner and Isaac Bonga in trades basically for nothing. 

He got Garrison Mathews out of nowhere. He signed Ish Smith instead of giving more money to Tomas Satoransky. And even his minor deals with guys like Anzejs Pasecniks and Gary Payton II have impressed to a degree.

It is very early in his tenure, but Sheppard is showing he has the ability to find diamonds in the rough, a skill that is one of the biggest separators between GMs.

It has also become evident on social media that Sheppard is gaining some clout among fans. Given the previous distrust in the front office, that is definitely worth noting.

The injuries have been ridiculous

Though injuries happen to every team and they are ultimately no excuse, the health of the Wizards has undoubtedly been a major part of their season to this point. They have had as many as eight players missing at times due to injury, or in other words more than half of their roster.

That has included two hardship exceptions and the players acquired as a result were even starting at times. Their best players have been hurt, even Beal who had previously played 194 straight games. Lately, they have been getting healthy, but the rash of injuries was enough to leave its mark on their 2019-20 campaign as a whole.

Beal may or may not be sold on the future

Though this season has mostly gone as expected, it has been fair to wonder how Beal has handled it all, given he is far and away their best player. He signed a contract extension to be part of this, but he's used to winning more games and it's only natural for him to be frustrated with how things have gone.

Beal backed up those theories with his comments this week about the team's culture, and the whole situation is going to be worth watching closely moving forward. The Wizards' best player appears to be a bit anxious about the franchise's future. Whether they can match their timeline to contend with his remains to be seen.

The Wall thing is going to get interesting

This was also pretty easy to call going into this season. Now over 11 months into his recovery from a ruptured Achilles, John Wall is making steady progress towards a return and the debates of whether he should come back this season or not are coming into focus. 

The discourse was taken up a notch recently with NBC Sports Washington's report about him playing in three-on-three scrimmages, and then again days after with video of those games. Though he isn't quite ready to come back, he is looking good and there are still three months remaining in the Wizards' season. 

Will he be ready one month from now, or two? Even if he is, will the Wizards bring him back or wait until next season? Those are major questions with no easy answers.

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Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Wizards committed more turnovers against the Raptors than they have in any game in 25 years

Whether it's good or bad, nothing the Wizards do is subtle. 

They'll score a million points and give up two million points. They'll beat the Heat, Nuggets and Celtics without Bradley Beal but also blow an 18-point fourth quarter lead to the Bulls. 

The Wizards had some turnover issues Friday night, but again, they're never subtle. 

Washington committed 28 turnovers on the way to a 29-point loss. Following the first seven minutes of play, the Wizards had seven turnovers and seven points. 

The last time the Wizards turned the ball over that much was April 2, 1994, in a 104-96 win over the Bucks. The last time an NBA team turned it over 28 times? The 2010 Suns. 

Nine Wizards players had multiple turnovers, while five players had at least three. 

Following Bradley Beal's comments criticizing the team's culture and need to develop winning habits, the Wizards' response left more than enough to be desired. Credit the Raptors defense utilizing their length and ball pressure to take advantage of when the Wizards were loose with the ball, but it takes more than good defense to turn it over 28 times. 

The bright side is this was an uncharacteristic performance for the Wizards. They currently average the 10th-fewest turnovers per game in the NBA, so there's a good chance they clean things up on Monday against the Pistons. 

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