It didn't take long in Monday's game for the Wizards to find themselves behind the eight-ball that’s become all-too-familiar in recent games.
The Wizards fell behind by double digits early, again, against the Nuggets and never recovered, despite a strong finish to the game that was mere window dressing on an otherwise already-decided result.
The 113-107 loss was a bit more deceptive than the actual play on the floor, as the Nuggets were without Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., Will Barton and Austin Rivers. It wasn’t until Nikola Jokic was ejected that the Wizards started chipping into a second half deficit that once went as high as 33 points.
“We played the way we should’ve played at the end of the game, the whole game,” Bradley Beal said. “Me, personally, it was more or less about opportunities. More or less how they were guarding me early on and throughout the course of the game. The third quarter, I moved on my ball screens and every action up high. Everything else was low, compact, they packed the paint and forced me to be a playmaker. We just didn’t make shots early in the game.”
The loss was the Wizards’ fifth loss in their last six games and their 10th in the last 15 games. After such a promising start to the year, the team has dropped to the middle of the pack in the league.
And, over the last few games, it doesn’t take long to figure out where the problems exist.
The Wizards have trailed by double digits at halftime in four of their last six games, and trailed in another by eight points. The only game they led at halftime during this stretch, against the Jazz, ended in a 25-point loss.
“It’s not necessarily our effort, I think we were getting frustrated,” coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. “Offense didn’t click, I thought we were once again generating open shots and we started the game 3-of-15 from 3. That’s demoralizing. It’s frustrating when you’re able to create the offense you’re looking for and you don’t get the payoff.”
Against the Nuggets, the Wizards trailed by seven after the first quarter and by 18 at halftime. At one point in the third quarter, they found themselves down by 33 points which for all intents and purposes put the game out of reach.
The Wizards did, however, cut the lead to six points in the final minutes. But that was once Jokic had fouled out and time was massively not in their favor.
The game pivoted late, once the Wizards saw a few shots fall on the offensive end. Their 66 points scored in the second half were the most they’d scored this season.
“Shots went in,” Unseld said bluntly of what changed. “I’m not being funny, we had a string of possessions, we finally started to make shots. It’s frustrating because you’re trying to get Brad going, but once again, teams are going to try to put pressure on him. They’re going to be up and be aggressive and make him a facilitator. He did that most of the game and we finally got the payoff. Once that happens, it finally starts to loosen up.”
Beal finished with 19 points and 10 assists, the latter setting a new season-high for him. With the Nuggets focused on turning Beal into a secondary option and a facilitator, it took time for the offense to get rolling in Denver.
Unfortunately for the Wizards, that’s exactly what has cost them over the last few weeks.
“The second half of that third quarter, obviously the whole fourth, that was kind of the, ‘Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures,’” Unseld said. “But it was good we stayed the course and kept playing. We could’ve easily just said, ‘Not our night, we’ll just throw in the towel.’ It was good to see us respond, finally make some shots, try to get some stops, continue to play together and play the right away. At least give yourself a chance.”