- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2018

Statisticians have tried to put parameters on what “clutch” means. The process of doing so is at odds with the preeminent argument from the numbers world that “clutch” does not exist. But, for measurement purposes, the NBA stat heads have framed the term around what occurs when a game is within five points with less than five minutes to play. That’s the working framework.

By that definition, the Washington Wizards are woeful. Just watching suggested that late-game struggles have defined this positive but less-than-ideal season so far. There are also numbers to back that up, numbers that don’t even include some of the non-boxscore miscues that helped sink the Wizards Wednesday night against the depleted Utah Jazz.

Start with general field-goal percentage. Washington falters as the game moves along. It opens at 48.5 percent from the field. In the fourth quarter, that number dips to 42.3. That’s 27th in the league.

There’s more. The Wizards are 26th in the league in second-chance points allowed in the fourth quarter. They are 24th in field-goal percentage “in the clutch.” They are 19th in 3-point percentage “in the clutch” and 23rd in net rating, at a staggering -12.

Much of the late-game failure can be attributed to Washington’s star players, John Wall and Bradley Beal. Their numbers late in close games are abysmal.

Beal’s shooting falls to 30.2 percent from the field and 21.1 percent from behind the 3-point line in the late-and-close situations. Across all quarters, his career averages in those categories are 44.3 and 39.4. So, his 3-point percentage has been sliced almost in half this season when his shooting matters most.

The results for Wall are also as poor. He is shooting 28.9 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from behind the 3-point line in the last five minutes of close games. That’s down from overall career numbers of 43.2 and 32.3, respectively. The sample sizes of late play in a half season versus career numbers needs to be taken into consideration. However, the comparison illustrates how off-course from the norm the dip becomes for Washington’s two best players.

This, in part, explains the story the eyes have told about Washington letting games get away from it late in games this season.

There are other end-game issues, too, which were displayed in Wednesday’s loss to Utah.

That night, Kelly Oubre Jr. committed two errors that resulted in six points. First, sedentary Jazz small forward Joe Ingles beat Oubre with a backdoor cut. On the recovery, Oubre fouled Ingles as he scored. That occurred with 6:05 to play. Five minutes later, Oubre left Ingles to help against a driving Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell passed out to the open Ingles, who made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:08 to play. It was the only 3-pointer Ingles made on the night. The Jazz did not trail again.

“Mental lapses, man,” Oubre said. “What do you want me to say? It’s on me. As a player, I got to do a better job of staying disciplined. I got to do a better job of making sure my man doesn’t score the game-leading three.

“That’s on me. I got to do a better job of pretty much locking in, making sure my man doesn’t do the things he wants to do. I put that on myself 100 percent.”

The errors infuriated Wizards coach Scott Brooks. Postgame, he mentioned both plays followed with the assessment, “can’t happen.”

Oubre’s mistakes that night are coming from a 22 year old midway through his third season. The shooting issues for Wall and Beal late in games are rooted among the team’s leaders.

Last season, Beal was much better in these particular situations, going along with the overall increase in his offensive efficiency. Beal shot 43.3 percent “in the clutch.” Wall was also better last season, when he shot 41.2 percent in these situations. Their past performance only makes their current one more noticeable.

Washington, five games over. 500 and on pace to win 46, opens the second half of the regular season Friday at home against Orlando. An area of cleanup is clear, and it starts late in the game with the team’s two best players.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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