There are plenty of reasons to believe the Wizards' recent success is sustainable, that they can indeed crack the playoff picture sometime soon. But lately, and especially in their loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night, they have shown some cracks that they will need to address to prevent what happened to them last season.
Last year, they also found initial success without John Wall, winning 10 of 13 after he had knee surgery in late January. But by the time he returned in March, the bottom had fallen out.
This time they don't have his return to look forward to if things do go south. They will get Markieff Morris back, and Dwight Howard too, though probably not anytime soon.
Howard had surgery on Nov. 30 and the team said he would be re-evaluated in two-to-three months. The two-month end of that timeline is coming up in a few days.
As of last week, there was no date set for him to either be re-evaluated by Wizards doctors or to return to D.C. to rehab with the team. It is looking like much closer to three months than two, according to a person familiar with the situation.
The Wizards get daily reports on his progress, and it looks like Howard will be re-evaluated later in February, but that's just an evaluation. From there he will have to work his way back in practices before he plays in games.
The Wizards, for the most part, are going to have to make do with what they have and, as they have shown in recent weeks, they still have enough to win. But several things can't happen if they are to keep up their current pace.
For one, they have to play more committed defense than they did against the Spurs. San Antonio didn't have their top scorer, DeMar DeRozan, yet they dropped 132 points, shot 57 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from three on 34 attempts. They out-rebounded the Wizards 49-32.
According to NBA.com's advanced box score, the Spurs contested 19 more shots than the Wizards. The Spurs had 18 boxouts. The Wizards had four.
That suggests the effort wasn't there. Perhaps some guys were tired, having played three games in four nights.
Certainly, some will point to the minutes a few players logged. Trevor Ariza played nearly 42 minutes against the Spurs and has averaged 38.1 per game since he joined the Wizards six weeks ago. Bradley Beal played 39 minutes and is second in the NBA this season only to Jrue Holiday in total minutes played.
But the Wizards just had a stretch of two games in 10 days thanks to their overseas trip to London to play the Knicks earlier this month. They are more rested at this point than most teams.
Plus, head coach Scott Brooks often pushes back on that premise. He rolls his eyes at complaints about players logging too many minutes and it's not just because he played in the 80s and 90s. He cites how they manage players' workloads in practice and with off-days that become more frequent later in the season.
There may be something, however, to the idea of players carrying too much responsibility on both ends of the floor. The minutes for guys like Beal, Ariza and Otto Porter Jr. are more strenuous now than they are when the Wizards have a healthy roster.
Beal, Ariza, and Porter may be showing some signs of wear as the Wizards' top scoring options. They have led the Wizards in shots since Wall got injured.
At first, Beal and Porter thrived in Wall's absence, but lately, they have been struggling. In his last five games, Beal is shooting just 40 percent from the field and has averaged 3.8 turnovers. His shooting numbers are also skewed by a fourth-quarter barrage against the Magic on Friday. Against the Spurs, he shot 8-for-20 and finished -29 in the box score.
Porter has been reeling. He had 13 points against San Antonio but shot 5-for-13 (38.5%). In his last three games, Porter has averaged 10 points while shooting 28.2 percent overall and 25 percent from three.
Ariza continues to have trouble making shots since he joined the Wizards. He is shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from three after coming over in a trade from the Suns in mid-December.
In order to win games with their injury-ravaged roster, the Wizards need to play spirited defense and get production from Beal and Porter on offense. Lately, they haven't been getting those things consistently and on Sunday night it cost them.
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