This excruciating Wizards season is nearing its end, with the playoffs appearing ever more unlikely. At 36-39, the Wizards would probably have to finish 6-1 to even have a shot at the postseason, and that might still leave them a game or two short. Many fans therefore decided that the season all but ended Wednesday night in Sacramento. Which means the season ended, after midnight, against a sub-.500 Western Conference team that had lost 14 of its past 19 games.
It was a bad loss, made worse by the team’s post-game comments.
“To me, it felt like we gave up,” Bradley Beal said, adding, “Everybody’s a grown-a– man. Either you want to play or you don’t. It’s plain and simple. Either you want to win or you don’t. If you don’t want to win then you need to sit down.”
Not a pretty night, in other words. But I don’t think it even makes the list of the five worst Wizards losses of the 2015-16 season. Which, in itself, is a measure of how frustrating this year has been. Here’s one quick attempt at listing the worst of the worst, in no particular order.
1. The undermanned Bulls in February
Why it was awful: Shortly before tip-off, Chicago announced Derrick Rose would sit out, joining Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah on the bench. That meant the Bulls were without three of their top four scorers, and two of their top four rebounders. Chicago was also one of the teams the Wizards were chasing, and the Bulls had won just three of their previous 10 games.
What happened: Tony Snell — who has since fallen completely out of Chicago’s rotation — scored 16 points. E’Twaun Moore had 17. The Bulls made their first eight shots in the third quarter — all from Snell, Moore and Mike Dunleavy — and held off a late Washington charge. (Read more.)
Quotes: “I had to look at the names on the back of the jerseys,” Dunleavy joked. “I didn’t even recognize some of them.”
“They played with desperation and we didn’t,” Beal said.
The big picture: Had the Wizards won that game, they would now be tied with the Bulls in ninth place. Instead, they’re two games back.
2. The Lakers at home in December
Why it was awful: The Lakers are now 16-59, the second-worst record in the NBA. They entered that game having lost seven straight, and were playing for the fourth time in five nights. The Wizards, meanwhile, had beaten the Cavaliers in Cleveland the previous night, and seemed ready to get on a roll.
What happened: Kobe Bryant scored 31 points, one of just three times he’s topped 30 in his retirement season. And the Wizards committed 23 turnovers, the most they’ve had at home all season. The home fans, meanwhile, spent much of the night cheering for the guy in purple. (Read more.)
Quotes: “He did not look like an old guy,” Marcin Gortat said.
“He decided to be young Kobe tonight,” Randy Wittman said.
“It was like a movie, man,” Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson said.
The big picture: Since that win in Washington, the Lakers are 3-23 on the road.
3. The disaster against the Pacers in early March
Why it was awful: This was the playoff tiebreaker game between two contenders for the last few spots in the East. The Wizards had been 7-3 since the all-star break, and the idea that they would surge into the playoffs was gaining steam. I spent the pre-game discussing Washington’s chances of nabbing the seven seed, and of beating the Raptors again in the first round. Really, I did.
What happened: Everything bad. Washington coughed up a 14-point lead. Bradley Beal got injured. Nene got fouled with 10 seconds left and the score tied, but missed one of his free throws. Paul George got fouled with three seconds left, down by one, and made both. John Wall missed a jump shot at the buzzer. The Wizards finished 15-of-24 from the line, while the Pacers made 19-of-20. (Read more.)
Quotes: “Yeah, I think so, knowing the situation we’re in,” John Wall said, when asked if this was the toughest loss of the season.
“This was important, no question,” Randy Wittman said. “Now we got to go out and make it up somewhere.”
The big picture: Had they held on, the Wizards would now be just a game behind the Pacers, holding the tiebreaker. Instead, they’re three games back, and Indiana wins a tie. Plus, Beal went on to miss the next three games, all losses. Speaking of which….
4. The collapse in Denver, in March
Why it was awful: That whole road trip was awful, but this may have been the worst. The Wizards led by nine in the fourth quarter against a sub-.500 team playing for nothing. They were trying to avoid their first five-game losing skid of the season. And two games before, Wall had said, “these two games right here are the season, in my opinion.” Washington had already lost the first of those two games.
What happened: The Nuggets scored 14 straight points in the fourth quarter. They outscored Washington 41-17 in that final quarter. Yes, 41-17! The Wizards shot a worse free-throw percentage than their opponent for the sixth straight game. And the Wizards finished their crucial road trip with as many wins as they had when it started. (Read more.)
Quotes: “This leaves us in a really bad position,” Wall said. “We just keep digging ourselves a bigger hole.”
“It’s just discouraging,” Jared Dudley said.
The big picture: The week before this loss, the Wizards were a win away from their first five-game winning streak of the season. After losing to the Nuggets, they had their first five-game losing streak.
5. The double-overtime loss to the Timberwolves, in March
Why it was awful: While Minnesota has been playing better, the Wolves still have one of the five worst records in the NBA. And the Wizards were at home. And playing for their playoff lives. And getting ready to depart for a critical five-game West Coast road swing. And it was the Timberwolves.
What happened: The Wizards lost a three-point lead in the final minute of regulation, and Beal missed an open three at the buzzer. They lost a four-point lead in the final minute of the first overtime, when Beal missed another potential buzzer-beater. And they lost a five-point lead in double-overtime, with Marcin Gortat missing the potential tying and potential go-ahead free throws with 15 seconds left.
Quotes: “Pretty devastating,” Wall said. “We know how important it was. Probably the game of the year.”
“It was a horrible loss,” Beal said. “Plain and simple. There’s no explanation about it. We shouldn’t have lost that game.”
The big picture: Over these last three crucial weeks, the Wizards have played five games against sub-.500 Western Conference teams. They’re 1-4 in those games.
I’ve listed five brutal, brutal losses. Had they gone just 2-3 in these games, the Wizards would now be very much alive. But maybe these aren’t actually bad losses. Maybe the Wizards just aren’t very good.
Honorable mention: A November loss to the Raptors in which John Wall missed two free throws with three seconds left and then the Raptors hit a game-winning three, a January loss to the Nuggets that prompted a players-only meeting, a February loss to the Hornets in which the Wizards led by as many as 19, a March overtime loss in Portland in which Gortat’s game-winning layup attempt was blocked at the end of regulation, and this week’s letdown in Sacramento.