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."