The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Defense — or lack thereof — continues to plague the Wizards

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (7) fires a jumper over Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) during second half action at the Verizon Center. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

Late nights inside the Washington Wizards’ locker room this season have followed the same routine.

High-pressure showers break up the silence in the room as several players dress then say “excuse me” while walking past the horde of reporters and eyeing the exit. Those who have to stick around and make sense of the mess — sometimes a new face but always John Wall and Bradley Beal — search for different ways to explain the same old thing.

Defenseless Wizards succumb to the Heat, 114-111

“The way we played defensively, we shouldn’t win the game,” Wall offered Saturday night.

“We’re not on the same page defensively at all,” Beal followed up from the other end of the room.

This season may still be young, but the stretch of 12 games has felt like the Wizards are stuck on a basketball hamster wheel. They’re chasing the concepts of playing hard, competing for 48 minutes and taking pride in defense but are repeatedly failing. The cycle continued on Saturday night with a 114-111 loss to the Miami Heat.

The Wizards (3-9) dropped their second game in three attempts to a team with a losing record. For the eighth time this season, they allowed an opponent to score 105 points or more.  Also once again, their defense enlivened a dormant offensive team. And the wheel just keeps on spinning.

“We sound like old records and keep saying what we need to do,” Beal said. “We know what we need to do. It’s just effort and just a matter of doing it.”

Washington wasted an exceptional night from its back court as Beal and Wall scored 34 points each and essentially played a pick-up game with the Heat — first team to actually buckle down and defend wins. Though the Heat rank 28th in scoring in the league, the Wizards surrendered layups, open three-pointers and offensive rebounds to a team that had barely scratched 90 points in three of its last four games (all losses). In examining the Wizards over the same four-game stretch, you’d need a microscope to find traces of defense:

  • Allowing a 47-point fourth quarter to the New York Knicks
  • Sleepwalking through an embarrassing 109-102 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers
  • Giving up 37 points to Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler
  • Yielding 14 of 33 three-point shooting to the Cleveland Cavaliers

Though Wizards Coach Scott Brooks has hammered home defense since training camp, something simply isn’t transferring from the practice floor to game time.

“Honestly, it’s just a work in progress, we just have to keep working at it,” Markieff Morris said. “We have to do our job of watching film to see where we can get better at on the defensive end. Offensively, it’s going to start clicking eventually. You see we had two guys go for 34 tonight, so offensively we’re there. We just got to get better on the defensive end.”

Several Wizards players have shared words to that effect since late October when the team opened the season with a 114-99 loss. After this defeat, however, there was some deviation from the monotony. Tommy Sheppard, the eternally ebullient team vice president, walked through the locker room patting guys on their backsides. Though Sheppard has made a post-game appearance before, spreading encouragements, on this night it seemed as if the players needed the pick-me-up. Their routine has grown old, and so has the losing.

“We don’t go out every night fighting and competing to take Ls but we still have bad habits that we can’t seem to get out of,” Beal said. “That’s all it is, we just have to break our habits of getting lazy on defense and our effort and just being committed for 48 minutes.”