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Closing out games a big problem for Wizards, as numbers paint an ugly picture

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Closing out games a big problem for Wizards, as numbers paint an ugly picture

The Wizards lost to the Blazers on Saturday night despite leading by as much as 17 points and entering the fourth quarter up 10. Once again, they let a winnable game slip away.

If it seems like that has become a trend for the Wizards, that's because it has. Washington has had unusual trouble closing out games so far this season. Their late-game failures stand out among other NBA teams and run counter to what we are used to seeing from the Scott Brooks-led Wizards.

Consider this: of their nine losses, the Wizards entered the fourth quarter leading in five of them. That leads the NBA. In three of those games the Wizards led by double-digits entering the fourth (Lakers, Warriors, Blazers). No other team has more than one such loss.

Last season, the Wizards only lost five games where they entered the fourth quarter with a lead, so they've already tied that mark in just 19 games. Not once in 2016-17 did they lose after leading by 10 points or more at the start of the fourth and only twice had they led by more than two before losing. Prior to this season, they hadn't lost a game after leading by double digits at the end of three quarters since March 31, 2014.

The Wizards losing three games after holding a double-digit lead entering the fourth quarter ties a franchise record. Only three times has a Washington team suffered three such losses in one season (1966-67 and 1994-95). 

That is concerning, but also strange. Last season, the Wizards were quite good at closing out games. Now, they are blowing leads on a regular basis.

The NBA defines 'clutch' statistics as numbers recorded in the last five minutes of a game - fourth quarter or overtime - with a score differential of five points or less. In that category, the Wizards have seen a dramatic flip from last season. After being one of the best teams in clutch scenarios, the Wizards are suddenly one of the worst.

Take a look at how their clutch numbers compare to last season:

The Wizards aren't shooting or defending well late in close games. Add it all up and their net rating in clutch scenarios is -37.7, fourth-worst among NBA teams.

The individual numbers aren't much prettier. Otto Porter shot 53.1 percent from the field in the clutch last year, this season he's at 33.3 percent. Bradley Beal is down to 27.6 percent this season after shooting 43.3 percent last year. And John Wall is down from 41.2 percent to 26.1 percent. 

The good news is that it's still early and the sample size is relatively small, 11 such games where clutch stats were applicable. Because they were so good in clutch scenarios last season, there is reason for hope, that these numbers will even out over the course of a full 82-game schedule.

That could very well happen. But for now, it's striking how much the Wizards are struggling late in games. It's out of character and it's costing them wins.

Stats via Basketball Reference and NBA.com

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How Mark Cuban's proposed regular season and expanded playoff format for NBA's return could benefit the Wizards

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How Mark Cuban's proposed regular season and expanded playoff format for NBA's return could benefit the Wizards

As the NBA continues to work toward resuming the 2019-20 season, one of the biggest questions remaining revolves around what the format of the remaining campaign will be.

When the season was put on hold, most teams had about 17 or 18 regular-season games left on their schedule. With play not set, it's unlikely the new timeframe could accommodate completing the original schedule. Though that won't impact the league's top teams, those fighting for the final playoff spots will lose valuable chances to gain ground.

How can the league hit the ground running and get into the playoffs while also giving almost every team a fair shot? Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has an idea.

"I want to change things around," Cuban told Mike Tirico on NBC Sports' Lunch Talk Live. “You know me, I’m a mover, shake. I want to experiment.”

Cuban suggested a plan that would include impactful regular season games for a majority of the league and an expanded playoff format. The regular season would have five games for every team, thus giving all 30 squads a chance to move up, or down, in the standings.

The five matchups become more important for those in the bottom half of the conferences when Cuban's playoff plans are taken into consideration. In this format, the field would be expanded from 16 teams to 20, with 10 coming from the East Conference and 10 from the West Conference. Teams outside of the eighth seeds would now have five games to secure one of the extra seeds in the postseason, and plenty of teams would be part of the race.

“If we do that, every team in the Eastern Conference would have a chance, at least, of making the playoffs," Cuban said. "All but two in the Western Conference would do it.” 

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The innovation doesn't end there, the 17-20 seeds in the playoffs would play in a one-game elimination-style matchup. The winners then take on the eight seed from each conference in a best-of-five series, while the top two teams from each side have a first round bye. After that, the playoffs resort back to the normal format the NBA has followed for years.

Cuban feel his idea works not only because it brings more teams into the mix, but because it also ramps up the intensity and playoff-like feel of every matchup once the season resumes. It's something new for the league, but he thinks the unique situation of the season calls for just that.

“That gives us a chance to have some more playoff games, some more excitement, some more meaningful games," Cuban said. "That gives almost every team a chance  when we come back for whatever’s going to be left of our regular season to do something interesting and compete for something.”

“I think we gotta change it up some. We can’t just go the tried and true way," he added. 

For the Wizards, Cuban's idea would change everything, specifically the expanded playoff format. As it stands now, Washington is ninth in the Eastern Conference, but 5.5 games back of the Orlando Magic for the eighth spot. Even with five regular-season games, a perfect record combined with an 0-5 showing from the Magic would leave the Wizards a half-game short. But with 10 teams allowed, Washington could easily find its way into the four-team playoff with a chance to play a full series.

The 2019-20 season comes with unique circumstances. In standard times, the Wizards would have had 18 games to try and catch Orlando and others. But with that off the table, the extra seeds is the most appealing option. 

Besides giving more teams a chance in the shortened season, Cuban also believes that his idea could be a beneficial trial as the NBA continuously tries to adapt and improve the game. As someone who has had plenty of experiences with implementing new business ideas, he knows that the only way to see if something works is to try it out and see how the consumers react.

“Like a shark tank, we'll test it out first," Cuban said. "We'll see how the market responds.”

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Bradley Beal says 2017 version of him was 'trash' and 'F the analytics'

Bradley Beal says 2017 version of him was 'trash' and 'F the analytics'

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks has recently incorporated some 2017 playoff games into his film sessions, in part to show the team's younger players what John Wall was like in his prime. It is one way for them to prepare for playing with Wall once he returns from injury, which is likely to be next season.

Bradley Beal has been watching those games and offering commentary to his teammates and, apparently, isn't impressed with the old version of himself. He joined Showtime's 'All the Smoke' this week and had some harsh words for the player he used to be.

Keep in mind Beal averaged 23.1 points and shot 40.4 percent from three that year, in the 2016-17 season.

"It's amazing to watch. I hate watching it because it's like 'I am f---ing trash.' I'm watching it and I'm like 'why are you hesitating on your shots? Why you ain't shooting? Why you ain't pass it right there?'... That dude from three or four years ago, that is not me today. I know that for sure," he said.

Beal spoke at length about his development into a multi-time All-Star. He said his constant improvement year-to-year has a lot to do with him watching players like James Harden, Damian Lillard and Klay Thompson continue to ascend, and realizing "it's either get with the program or you get left behind."

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As for what he's focused on, Beal said it is being a consistent scorer "with efficiency." He wants to increase his volume as a scorer without leaving his shooting percentages to suffer.

He has been able to achieve that for the most part, this season averaging 30.5 points while holding a 52.0 effective field goal percentage. That is not easy to do, especially as a guard.

But don't let the efficiency talk lead you to thinking Beal is poring over the numbers, especially the advanced metrics. He also dropped a line on the show that may raise some eyebrows.

"Honestly, I'm not an analytical guy. I say F the analytics, just go hoop," he said.

That may be surprising to some, especially given Beal happens to show up well in advanced statistics. He's an efficient player who makes a lot of threes.

But it's also not surprising given many NBA players have shared the same opinions. Analytics have changed basketball in many ways, but they still aren't widely embraced by a lot of the players they benefit.

You can listen to Beal's full interview right here:

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