- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Washington Wizards’ road to the playoffs is mountain steep with the wind in their face. Five games remain. Washington is four losses behind the eighth-place Detroit Pistons. When asked about their playoff prospects, the Wizards keep insisting stranger things have happened.

The math is on the cusp of eliminating this injury-riddled, underachieving team. If the Detroit Pistons lose their five remaining games, and the Wizards win their final five, then, yes, the strange will have happened. But, it’s not just the eighth seed the Wizards have to catch. The Chicago Bulls are still settled between Washington and the final playoff spot in the improved Eastern Conference. The Indiana Pacers, who have the same record as the Pistons but are in front because of the tiebreaker, also hold the tiebreaker with the Wizards. So, by strange, the Wizards are talking about an oddity of extraordinary proportions.

“You never know what could happen,” John Wall said. “Some of the crazy things have happened. All we can do is try to win games, keep playing and keep fighting. I know the guys — the way we practiced [Monday], everybody’s going to come out competing and try to finish this season as strong as possible.”

The Wizards have won five consecutive games once this season. Their inconsistent — and often non-existent — defense is the cause of that. Though it has improved since the all-star break, that effort has only moved the Wizards to 25th in the league in opponent’s field goal percentage. They are also tied for 25th in opponent’s 3-point percentage. Much of the season, they were either second-to-last or last in each category.

That is part of what has made this season such a difficult one to explain. What was a defense-first team became one of the league’s poorest batch of defenders after changes to the offensive philosophy. Players have griped about the type of pick-and-roll coverage they were asked to play. Other times, they were just dissatisfied with the effort. Either way, the inability to stop their opponent came as a surprise for a team that had so many returning parts from a top-five defense.

“That’s been the whole key of our team all season,” Wall said. “We’re a team that can score. That’s something we had problems with in the past, we couldn’t score, so we had to defend so well. Now, we can score a little bit. We don’t defend as well at times. That’s why we’ve got the record we have.

“We can’t outscore people. We try to outscore certain teams and it never pans out that way. We always end up losing those games. When we don’t try to outscore these teams that can score the ball very well and we defend, we win those games. Simple as that. It’s just frustrating because it keeps going back and forth all season.”

The season has been a beastly one for Wall. He’s one of two players to play every game, with backup point guard Ramon Sessions the other. He’s averaging career-highs in points, assists, 3-point percentage, rebounds, steals and turnovers. He’s been busy.

Wall’s minutes on the floor have been in line with his career average. He has averaged 36 minutes per game in his career and 36.2 minutes per game this season, though he has at times mentioned not having “the legs” at the end of a game that he normally would. The immediate image that comes to mind is Wall laying the ball up at the buzzer against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 17 and missing instead of dunking it. He said afterward that he did not have the lift to dunk at the end. Wall played 44 minutes that night, scored 36 points, had 13 assists, seven rebounds and seven steals. Shooting guard Bradley Beal did not play in that game. Power forward Nene was on a minutes restriction. Otto Porter was out.

So, Wall’s minutes may be the same, but the required exertion level has not.
“Totally,” Wall said. “I just feel like with the injuries, I have done a lot more.”

Unfortunately for Wall, the rise in numbers will likely not be enough for a trip to the playoffs. Another season of him being paired with Beal will end well short of where it was expected to. Beal was again hurt throughout the year, helping to contribute to what will be the final pain when the numbers soon tell Washington a playoff appearance is not possible.

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