Wizards

Wizards drop fourth straight, fall to .500 for first time this season

Wizards

The Washington Wizards lost to the Suns 118-98 in Phoenix on Thursday night. Here are five observations from what went down...

.500

The Wizards' loss to the Suns was yet another ugly defeat for a team that has now dropped four straight games, seven of their last eight and 12 of their last 17. It was their eighth straight game in which they trailed by double digits and the third time in four games where they have gone down by at least 25.

But the particulars of this game are secondary to what stands out in the big picture. After starting this season 10-3, their best start as a franchise in decades, they are now an even .500 at 15-15. The Wizards have crashed back down to Earth and swiftly. 

Washington was first in the Eastern Conference on Nov. 17 and now only 29 days later are in a three-way tie for eighth. Put another way: they have the same record as the 10th-best team in the East.

It has been a stunning downfall and one that will end at some point, but when? The Wizards are playing bad basketball right now and they are going through an especially tough part of their schedule.

Beal is heating up

The Wizards may be hitting rock bottom at the moment (one would hope), but one positive has been the recent play of Bradley Beal. He had another big game on Thursday, one night after scoring 30 points against the Kings. Beal had 20 points by halftime, tying a season-high for a single half, and he did so on 7-for-10 shooting.

 

Beal would end the game with 26 points, five assists and three rebounds, shooting 11-for-18 overall, as he slowed down in the second half. He also didn't play much more, as the game got out of hand. Beal, though, is shooting 53.4% over his last six games. Maybe he's back?

Size disadvantage

This was yet another game where the Wizards' lack of a big center worked against them and it was even more apparent in this one because Chris Paul seemed to be very aware of that dynamic. Over and over he orchestrated mismatches off pick-and-rolls with Deandre Ayton down low. They deliberately set the Wizards up to have Ayton guarded in the post by smaller players, which wasn't that difficult because literally every player the Wizards have on their roster is smaller than him. 

It was particularly effective when Ayton got the ball and wasn't defended by Daniel Gafford. Corey Kispert, for instance, was targeted in that way on multiple occasions. The Suns used this strategy to score 58 points in the paint. The Wizards gave up 68 paint points the night before to the Kings. To contextualize how bad that is, the Wizards rank 29th out of 30 NBA teams, allowing 48.9 points in the paint per game. These two games went well beyond that.

Gafford, by the way, went scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting. He may have been reeling from the minor leg injury he sustained the night before in Sacramento.

McGee revenge game

Though JaVale McGee was traded away from the Wizards in 2012 and has since enjoyed a much more successful career than many may want to give him credit for, he hasn't had too many big games against his former team. Before Thursday, he had played the Wizards 10 times, only three times reaching double-figure scoring. 

Make it four times now, as he went off for 11 points in the first half and ended up with 17 for the game. It was similar to Ayton in that the Wizards didn't have anyone who could match his size. McGee seemed to sense that as an opportunity to be aggressive on offense, as early in the first half he was attacking the rim both in transition and off the dribble in the halfcourt. He had a nice spin move around Montrezl Harrel for an and-1. McGee also had eight rebounds and two steals in the game.

Dinwiddie was out

The Wizards were missing Spencer Dinwiddie who continues to rest on the second night of back-to-backs as part of a maintenance program due to the ACL surgery he had earlier in the year. The Wizards have been through this enough times to know the drill, and they were a solid 2-2 without him entering Thursday's game.

But Dinwiddie's absence was compounded by early foul trouble for Aaron Holiday, his replacement in the starting lineup. Holiday had two fouls within the first three minutes and had three fouls just over four minutes into the game. It was not an ideal situation for the Wizards, who had to rely heavily on Raul Neto and other players to pick up ball-handling responsibilities.