Through the first three quarters of their games this season, the Washington Wizards have outmatched their opponents, looking like the improved team many expected to see emerge from an eventful offseason. In the fourth quarter, they have turned into the Atlanta Falcons.
Now, they sit at 0-3 on the season, looking back at all three games wondering what would have happened if just a few plays went differently. A few more stops, or a few more free throws could have made the difference.
So far in three games - one against the Sixers, two vs. the Magic - the Wizards have outscored their opponents 89.3 to 80.7 through three quarters. They have edged those teams 30 to 19.7 in the third quarter.
In the fourth, they have been blasted 40.3 to 24.0 on average, a difference of 16.3 points. Teams have shot 61.8 percent against the Wizards, who have shot just 40 percent in the fourth quarter themselves.
The Wizards' offensive and defensive ratings overall this season rank average in the league at 106.9 (18th) and 113.8 (21st), respectively. In the fourth quarter, their offensive rating sinks to 93.5 and their defensive rating soars to 157.1.
"We have to figure out that fourth quarter," head coach Scott Brooks said.
On Sunday, in the Wizards' second loss to the Magic in as many days, Orlando outpaced the Wizards 43-19 in the fourth quarter. They shot 63.6 percent from the field, nearly double the Wizards (32%), who also went 1-of-9 from three. The Magic made all 12 of their free throw attempts and grabbed nearly double the rebounds the Wizards did (15 to eight).
"We obviously couldn't get any stops. We got them down, then our offense was stagnant early in the fourth quarter," Brooks said. "Quick shots, bad shots, turnovers. They were just putting their head down and attacking the rim, getting easy shots. We didn't show enough resistance in that fourth quarter. It's been three games in a row. We have to figure that out."
Markelle Fultz led the way for Orlando with 10 points in just five minutes in the fourth quarter, on 4-of-5 shooting. He coasted past the Wizards' defense and helped the Magic go 9-of-12 in the paint.
"I think they played harder than us at times. There was not enough focus on our part," Raul Neto said.
The Wizards led Orlando by 17 points entering the fourth quarter before their meltdown. They closed the third on a 6-0 run, only to see the Magic score the first 10 points of the fourth quarter. The Wizards began the fourth with a lineup of Ish Smith, Jerome Robinson, Troy Brown Jr., Deni Avdija and Robin Lopez. Collectively, they couldn't push back against a Magic team that was gaining momentum.
Brooks mentioned that he's still experimenting with lineups and that his second unit is not yet settled. He is also working around Rui Hachimura being out due to injury, Davis Bertans being on a minutes restriction and, in the case of this game, Russell Westbrook being out for rest.
Regardless, the Wizards have been just fine through three quarters. It's that last one that has derailed their start to the season.
Tune in at 6 PM to NBC Sports Washington on Wednesday for complete coverage of the Wizards' next game against the Chicago Bulls.