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After recent progress, Wizards' defense is getting worse as they get healthier

After recent progress, Wizards' defense is getting worse as they get healthier

The 2019-20 Washington Wizards continue to stand out in the context of NBA history, and not in a good way.

We knew going into this season their defense would likely be a weakness, but to this extent? After allowing 151 points in a loss to the Giannis Antetokounmpo-less Bucks on Tuesday, the Wizards became just the fourth team ever to give up 150-plus in two straight games. The Hawks dropped 152 on them on Sunday.

Tuesday was the sixth time the Wizards have given up 140 points or more already this season. That's the most such games for any team since the 1990-91 Nuggets. Reminder that this was Game 46 of the Wizards' season.

There have been six total 150-point games this season in the NBA and four of them have been against the Wizards. They allow the most points of any team on the year (121.3/g) and have the worst defensive rating (116.6). 

The latter is on pace to be the second-worst in league history only to the 2018-19 Cavaliers, who posted a 117.6. Those Cavs, though, only gave up 114.1 points per game.

The Wizards' defensive ineptitude peaked, though, in the first half of Tuesday's defeat when they allowed a shocking 88 points to the Bucks. That was a franchise-record for Milwaukee for points in a half and the most ever scored by a Wizards/Bullets opponent in a half. It was the seventh-most points scored in a first half in NBA history.

The real shame is that the Wizards had made some progress defensively not that long ago. From Dec. 28 through Jan. 15, a span of 10 games, the Wizards held opponents to 113 points a night. That would rank 20th among NBA teams if held over the whole season to this point.

That's not exactly the 90s Bulls, but combined with their high-powered offense, that gave the Wizards a winning formula. It was during that stretch that they beat three of the NBA's top teams; the Heat, Nuggets and Celtics. And they won all three games without Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and Thomas Bryant.

Those three, by the way, might be the Wizards' best players. But as the Wizards have gotten healthy, they have also taken a step backward defensively.

Defensive rating, which measures points allowed per 100 possessions, is a team stat that is tracked and charted for individual players. The number assigned to each player indicates how the team plays defensively when they are on the floor. And because it is a team-wide stat, it isn't a perfect representation of how a player performs on the defensive end.

But it can tell you who is on the floor when the team is at their best or worst and Beal and Bryant happen to have two of the three highest defensive ratings on the team. Beal is at 121 and Bryant is at 120.9. The only player worse is Rui Hachimura (123.8), who should be returning soon himself from injury.

Isaiah Thomas has the fourth-highest defensive rating on the team at 120.7, which added to the equation further illustrates how bad the Wizards' starting lineup is at preventing points. Part of it, of course, could be the simple fact that as starters they face the best players on the opposing teams.

But also many of the Wizards' best defensively rated players were logging heavy minutes when the aforementioned guys were out. Garrison Mathews (103.8), Anzejs Pasecniks (109.5), Isaac Bonga (110.2), Jordan McRae (111.9), Troy Brown Jr. (114.3), Gary Payton II (115.4), Ish Smith (115.4) and Ian Mahinmi (115.8) were leading the charge when the Wizards were missing most of their regulars.

This, of course, by no means suggests the Wizards are better without Beal, Bertans, Bryant and others. But with them back in the lineup, the Wizards are trending in the wrong direction defensively.

It's a confusing problem and one head coach Scott Brooks will need to figure out if this team plans to turn things around this season.

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Bradley Beal was excellent again but his biggest play vs. Nets was the game-winning pass

Bradley Beal was excellent again but his biggest play vs. Nets was the game-winning pass

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards beat the Brooklyn Nets 110-106 on Wednesday night. Here are five takeaways from what went down:

1. Two streaks ended for the Wizards on Wednesday night, but they have no problem with the end result.

Bradley Beal did not score 50 points after doing so in two straight games, but the Wizards won against the Brooklyn Nets to break a three-game skid coming out of the All-Star break. After dropping 55 against the Bucks on Monday, Beal said he would rather have the win. He got his wish on Wednesday.

Beal still played very well. He had 30 points to go along with five assists, five rebounds and three steals. Seventeen of his points came in the fourth quarter. 

Beal shot 11-for-24 from the field and 4-for-9 from three. That is an excellent game, even if it was a major drop-off from his previous two in the points department.

Beal's best play was a pass to teammate Jerome Robinson with under 10 seconds to go. Though an unproven player, Robinson was wide open and was able to knock down a go-ahead three. Robinson then grabbed a rebound and made two free throws to seal the victory.

The win pushed the Wizards to 21-36 on the season and it also helped them gain some ground in the playoff race, as the Nets are currently the seventh seed.

2. The Wizards made a lineup change for this game, replacing Ish Smith as the starting point guard with Shabazz Napier, who came over weeks ago in a trade deadline deal. 

The Wizards had lost three games, which may have had something to do with it. But head coach Scott Brooks described the move as more related to Smith's success running the second unit. Smith, of course, has spent most of his time on the bench this season, previously backing up Isaiah Thomas.

And when Thomas was in the fold, it was obvious to most that Smith was the better player, even though he wasn't starting. To his credit, Smith seems to have no problem with either role, just as long as he has one.

3. After two so-so games against the Bulls and Bucks, Rui Hachimura was back to his usual scoring ways with 17 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field. Most of those points came in the midrange and on drives to the rim, the combination which has become his bread-and-butter.

Hachimura, though, didn't score in the fourth quarter. The trend of him starting fast, then slowing down continued.

4. The way Troy Brown Jr.'s minutes were doled out in this game is worth noting. Brown, who is usually one of the first players off the bench as the back-up wing, didn't check in until there was 6:27 left in the second quarter. He ended up playing only 13 minutes, which is more than a few ticks below his 25.5 per game season average.

Even with the roster now nearly healthy, he still usually plays a lot more. This month, for instance, he is averaging 22.2 minutes. 

Even when Brown got in, Brooks was keeping a close eye on him. Late in the first half, right after Brown knocked down a three, Brooks got right out of his seat to yell at Brown about his defensive positioning. It looks like the coach is practicing some tough love for the 20-year-old.

Brown ended up with seven points and three boards.

5. Davis Bertans was back in the lineup after missing the last game with right knee soreness. He played quiet well, too, with 14 points, going 4-for-11 from three-point range.

Thomas Bryant also returned after resting Monday in the second game of a back-to-back due to his recent right foot issues. He had eight points and seven boards.

At this point, it seems like it might be a while before Bryant is fully himself again as he continues to deal with a strict minutes limit.

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WATCH: Wizards' Jerome Robinson hits game-winning three to stun Nets

WATCH: Wizards' Jerome Robinson hits game-winning three to stun Nets

On a night where the Wizards coughed up an 18-point lead and Bradley Beal recorded yet another 30-point performance, second-year guard Jerome Robinson was the hero Wednesday night. 

With all the attention on Beal in the closing seconds, Robinson was left wide open on the left wing with the Wizards down one. 

Despite coming off two straight 50-point games and a couple monster fourth quarters, Beal trusted in his teammate and dished him the ball with the game on the line.

Robinson, who was playing in his seventh game with the Wizards after he was acquired at the trade deadline, did not let Beal down. 

Not only did Robinson hit the big shot, but he secured the rebound on the Nets' final possession and knocked down both free throws to seal it. Clutch. 

It was a much-needed win for the Wizards, who had lost three consecutive games returning from the All-Star break and were at risk of falling too far behind the Magic for the eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference. 

Now, they'll go on a crucial west-coast trip to play the Jazz, Warriors, Kings and Trail Blazers that could ultimately decide their postseason fate. 

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