Wizards

Wizards

When Kelly Oubre Jr. snatched his eighth rebound out of the air, the Wizards were down only one point with 37.4 seconds remaining on Friday night. They were on the road and in a close battle, but playing against an inexperienced Sacramento team most expect to end this season in the lottery.

The Wizards had been in this situation many times before, while many on the Kings had not. It should have been advantage Washington.

It's one thing to miss shots late in games, ones that could have made the difference between a win and a loss. It's a completely different pill to swallow when a game is lost on turnovers, and the Wizards committed three of them in the final 23 seconds alone.

The first was by Bradley Beal. He dribbled the ball off his knee and out of bounds.

The second was a travel by Markieff Morris. John Wall passed him the ball and instead of firing what appeared to be an open shot, Morris shuffled his feet while trying to pass.

The third was an errant, football-style pass by Jeff Green. With 2.4 seconds left and the Wizards down only two points thanks to a De'Aaron Fox missed free throw, Green rocketed a pass three-quarters of the court and out of bounds.

It was thrown too hard, inaccurately and essentially uncatchable. For one play, Jeff Green morphed into Jeff George.

The Kings also made mistakes late, the Wizards just made more. Sacramento missed two free throws in the final 20 seconds. They went scoreless from the 2:08 mark until there were 19 seconds remaining.

 

The door was open, and the Wizards had to sense it. But instead of imposing their will as a veteran team, instead of capitalizing on what should have been a break in their schedule, the Wizards saw the Kings' late-game mistakes and raised them a few.

So far through five games, this 1-4 Wizards team has made that a theme. On opening night, it was a failure to box out that let Kelly Olynyk sink them with a putback layup. The next game, against the Raptors, they couldn't close on defense and let Fred Van Vleet beat them on a miracle shot.

The late-game mishaps are inexcusable, and even more so against a team like the Kings. They have some nice young players, but this Kings team in a loaded Western Conference is almost certain to be in the Zion Williamson sweepstakes next summer.

Folding late against less-talented teams was among the biggest reasons why the Wizards fell way short of their expectations last season. Their 20 wins against sub-.500 opponents was worst among 2017-18 playoff teams. So far, that problem does not appear to be out of their system. 

The Heat and Raptors, who were without key rotation players and facing Washington in the second night of back-to-backs, could be included. All signs pointed to the Wizards winning those games, yet they didn't.

It has only been five games, but the Wizards know all too well what may be transpiring. These games, the close ones that slip away due to unforced errors, these are the ones that you regret come March and April when playoff seeding is determined. The ones that especially hurt are the games against teams like the Kings, who are probably going to be out of contention by the All-Star break.

The good news (yes, good news) is that the Wizards have been here before very recently. They were 1-4 after five games to begin the 2016-17 season. They were even 2-8 after 10. They then rallied to win 49 games, their most since the 1970s.

That is an example, but not an ideal model to follow. The turnaround of 2016-17 was invoked over and over in 2017-18. But last season, that comeback never came.

The Wizards want to win 50-plus games this year and go to the Eastern Conference Finals or beyond. But unless they close out games like Friday's, they will fall way short of all of that.

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