The Washington Wizards entered the 2017-18 season with high hopes.
Coach Scott Brooks started John Wall’s MVP campaign early, pushing his all-NBA point guard as a potential candidate at the team’s September media day. Around the same time, Wall said Washington “definitely [would] get 50-plus wins.” Weeks later, Bradley Beal proclaimed the Wizards as the best team in the Eastern Conference. All of these expectations seemed possible following the team’s historic turnaround and postseason run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But now that the 2017-18 Wizards have reached the crossroads of the regular season, they look strikingly similar — or only slightly better, in some instances — to last year’s team.
The Wizards are 23-18, just one game better than last year’s pace despite the organization going all in on its belief that continuity with Wall, Beal and Otto Porter Jr. would lead to greater heights.
Through the first 41 games, Washington has produced an offensive rating of 106.3, the 11th best mark in the league — the exact same number and ranking the team held at this point in the season a year ago. While the Wizards have shown marked improvement on the defensive end, ranking eighth in the league with a 104.0 defensive rating, that progress has not helped the team win more games.
Despite another year of playoff maturation and not having to overcome a 2-8 record like last year’s roster, these Wizards continue to spin in a web of self-induced problems.
“Just be locked in. Be a locked-in team,” Wall offered as what the Wizards must focus on for the second half of the season. “Move the ball offensively, trust guys cutting, and trust passing the ball and trust playing team defense.”
Wall almost apologetically recycled a line he has used throughout the first 41 games of the year.
“We’ve already shown that we’re capable of it. It’s the same thing that we’ve been saying the last four or five years — I know y’all are tired of hearing it and I’m tired of saying it,” he said. “But it is what it is until we prove that we can do it on a nightly basis, we’re going to have these same conversations.”
Wednesday night, as the Wizards barreled into the midway point of the season, they lost for the 10th time against a team with a sub .500 record. The depleted Utah Jazz, who had the second-worst mark in the league over the last 16 games before coming to Washington, scored 61 points in the second half and made the critical, late-game defensive stop — forcing a turnover on Beal’s potential game-tying three-pointer. The Wizards lacked both nonstop offensive rhythm as well as defensive timeliness.
“They just beat us,” Beal said about a team missing its cornerstone, center Rudy Gobert.
Before Wednesday, however, Washington did not sound as defeated. With the midway point approaching, Wall surveyed the first 41 games and determined that things were “good,” despite the scattered injuries that have affected the starting lineup.
“I think we survived just injuries. We dealt with injuries, me missing games, Otto, [Markieff Morris], I think we dealt with injuries that we got past and to be where we are, to be over .500 is good,” Wall said. “We should have had a way better start than what we had, the way we started the season. But we can’t look back at it. We have what we have now. Guys are healthy. I think we’ve got a rhythm now. And we’ve just got to go out there and play basketball and give ourselves a chance to still win. I think we give ourselves a great chance of understanding when we play team basketball, when we play team defense, we’re a tough team to beat. But when we try to do it individually we’re not so good, and we end up tending to lose games.”
But when judging the season through the lens of last year and all that the Wizards had accomplished, Wall showed no satisfaction with the meager returns of 2017-18.
“I still wouldn’t be content,” Wall said of the team staying afloat amid the injuries, “because we still let like nine, 10 games go that we should have won . . . and let fourth quarter leads go. So I wouldn’t say content. But it’s okay. It’s cool.”
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