The Wizards have played two competitive games against teams that made the playoffs last season, only to break down defensively in the fourth quarter and take two losses to begin the year. The defensive problems that have cropped up late in each game sound familiar.
The Wizards were the last-ranked defense in the NBA last season, and though they may ultimately prove to be better on that end of the floor, there has been some carryover.
"I thought we were a step slow. Every mistake we made, they capitalized," head coach Scott Brooks said after the Wizards' 130-120 loss to the Orlando Magic on Saturday.
The messages conveyed after the game were very similar to what we've heard from the Wizards especially in the two previous seasons as defense has been a main reason they have fallen short of the playoffs. Though the cast has changed, the same problems have persisted.
Communication and effort are often cited by Wizards players. Saturday night was no different.
"We have to communicate more often and be on a string on the defensive end," Thomas Bryant said.
"There's some communication aspects that will get better as the season goes along," Russell Westbrook said. "It's something that can be fixed, which is a good thing."
"I think it was an effort thing. We've always known, the last couple years, Orlando has had our number and I think it's just from the standpoint of them playing harder than we do," Bradley Beal said. "I think defensively, we had a lot of slip-ups that shouldn't have been there, a lot of easy switching situations that we didn't do and communicate."
Beal decided to clarify his comments about effort. While he may have drawn a hard line in the past about his teammates not giving their all defensively, he said it's a bit more complicated now.
"Just taking the individual challenge. We can't get beat off the dribble. We've gotta show more resistance in all areas of the game," he said.
"I got beat on a few backdoors and cuts and things, too. We just have to be more solid and disciplined and once it's the last 5-10 minutes of the game, it's time to lock in and win."
The numbers so far are in a very small sample size of two games, but they show a big difference in the fourth quarter for the Wizards. Though they rank 19th overall in defensive rating (per NBA.com), they are 30th in the fourth quarter. That number goes from a respectable 111.5 all the way to 152.9.
The Wizards have been outscored 78-48 total in the fourth quarter so far. Teams are shooting 60.9 percent against them in that frame. In the third quarter, Washington has allowed the fourth-fewest points (44) and teams are shooting just 34 percent.
Again, it's a small sample size. But clearly, the Wizards have to close out games better on the defensive end.
"Fourth quarter defense, we've gotta clean that up. It's been two games in a row now," Brooks said.
Tune in to NBC Sports Washington at 6 p.m. on Sunday for complete coverage of the second leg of the Wizards' back-to-back against the Orlando Magic.