- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Washington Wizards have tried everything in an effort to salvage their shipwrecked season. They’ve called each other out publicly. Coach Scott Brooks has made lineup changes and shortened rotations. Players have been traded.

But at the halfway point of the season, the Wizards are taking on water and don’t appear close to solving their problems. The Wizards had issues before John Wall opted to undergo season-ending surgery on his foot. They’re supposed to get better now?

The Wizards haven’t given up hope, but they will need a strong second half in order to reach the playoffs.

Over the last five seasons in the Eastern Conference, the eighth seed finished with an average of nearly 41 wins — with no more than 44 and no less than 38. If the Wizards need 41 wins to make the playoffs, Washington would need to go 25-17 in the second half to get there — or in other words, win nearly 60 percent of their remaining games.

Even if it takes 38 wins, which could be possible in a weakened East, the Wizards would need to win 52 percent of their remaining schedule. Washington entered Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers with a 16-24 record.

Here’s why the Wizards have found themselves in such a hole:

Streaky shooting, porous defense

The Wizards committed to playing a modern style of basketball this season, cutting back on midrange shots and jacking 3-pointers. But their shooters haven’t come through in this adjustment — as Washington ranks 29th (32.7 percent) in 3-point field goal percentage.

While that may be a weakness, the Wizards‘ offense, all things considered, has been fine. They rank 13th in field goal percentage.

It’s their defense that’s more of a concern. The Wizards are giving up 116.4 points per game, 26th in the NBA. Brooks has lamented the fact that defenders often give up too many straight-line drives to the basket. Washington doesn’t close out on 3-point shooters fast enough or leaves them open altogether as teams are shooting nearly 37 percent from beyond the arc.

Some of this is an effort issue, as players like Wall and star Bradley Beal have continuously referenced taking pride in defending.

Injuries

The Wizards weren’t very good even when Wall, Markieff Morris and Dwight Howard were healthy. Still, Washington has missed their presence.

Even when Wall was playing, he wasn’t completely healthy. Last week, Wall told reporters his heel injury limited his ability to move — which, he said, explained why the point guard would go entire offensive possessions standing in the corner, seemingly detached from the play. He also wasn’t as active defensively.

“If you watch the games and see how I’m running … you would know what’s the difference and what is going on,” Wall said. “My effort was there, but it wasn’t the player I wanted to be or the person I could be.”

Washington has spent most of the season without Howard, who’s recovering from back surgery, but they could certainly use his rebounding. This season, the Wizards rank third-to-last in rebounds per game and second-to-last in rebounding rate.

Through 40 games, Washington has only outrebounded their opponent nine times. They’re also 9-0 in those contests.

Elsewhere, Washington’s depth has been tested. They missed Otto Porter for a 10-game stretch and went 3-7 in that span.

Drama, drama, drama

Does Wall’s recent Twitter feud with ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith even rank within the top 3 of Washington’s dramatic moments this season?

After all, this is a team in which Wall reportedly shouted “[expletive] you” toward Brooks, and Beal told management he was sick of “this” at the same heated practice.

The Wizards have made trades in an attempt to get their chemistry back on track. When Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers were shipped out for Trevor Ariza, Wall and Beal both noted how Ariza knew and could play within his role — something Oubre and Rivers both struggled to do with Washington.

It’s hard to say how much of the team’s off-court dysfunction led to their losses on the court. But every loss only fueled the perception that the Wizards were in dire need of a shakeup of their core.

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