The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wizards can’t unlock the mysteries of the three-point arc

Scott Brooks wants the Wizards to hoist more three-pointers this season, but if Friday night's performance was any indication, his team isn't listening. (Will Newton/Getty Images)

A night of atrocious defense and putrid shooting concluded with a Washington Wizards player refusing to leave the court until he made his free throws and a heckling worker being removed from the arena.

The twilight scene, witnessed by a smattering of Capital One Arena employees, autograph-seeking fans and idling reporters, might have been the best entertainment inside the building Friday night. It happened right after Dwight Howard had given a monster effort against the Brooklyn Nets, the team he was traded to in the summer before being waived and signing with the Wizards.

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Howard had contributed season-high totals in points (25) and rebounds (17), but before hitting the showers, he returned to the main court to practice his free throws. He had made 7 of 10 attempts during the game. So while Howard got into a shooting rhythm, tuning out the background noise with music playing in his ear buds, a contract worker who was part of a team hired to clean around the 400 level tried to break his concentration.

“Brick!” the worker yelled. But as Howard’s shots swished through the net, he switched to: “That’s right, Dwight! You better make them!”

It was a strange display that capped a puzzling night of basketball.

The Wizards, a team presumably focused on shooting more three-pointers, went back to the 1990s, while the Nets, without their best player, controlled the game for the final three quarters. The difference between the pair of sub-.500 teams wasn’t close, and for the fourth time on a Friday night this season Washington came up short, dropping to 5-10 with a 115-104 loss to Brooklyn.

“It’s just like a very unorganized night, it seemed like,” backup guard Austin Rivers said, “on both ends for us.”

On the offensive end, the Wizards reverted to the style of yesterday’s NBA — and the habit they’re most comfortable with — attempting more midrange looks than shots beyond the perimeter. The preseason emphasis on three-pointers continued to look like wishful thinking as Washington shot 3 of 18 (17 percent) from three-point range, its lowest output (and worst percentage) through 15 games.

The Wizards have struggled to consistently hit from distance this season, shooting 32.2 percent — far below the league average. So when they made 1 of 6 long-range attempts in the first quarter, it didn’t register as a surprise. Plus they connected on 60 percent overall from the field in the first quarter and led 30-26 at the end of it, so there was little cause for alarm.

But the percentage was fool’s gold. The Wizards were passively taking jumpers outside the paint because they were available. The assertiveness and confidence behind taking 33 threes, as Brooklyn did Friday and as 10 NBA teams are averaging per game, simply wasn’t there for the Wizards.

“We’ve got to play a little bit faster,” all-star guard Bradley Beal said, diagnosing what ailed Washington’s offense. “A lot of our threes we get in transition. So getting stops, getting out in transition and getting easy shots, doing a better job in our half-court sets, so more cuts and screening and just being ready at all times. We’ve got to be a lot more aggressive.”

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Beal, who recently made his 900th career triple, attempted just three shots from beyond the arc for the second time in a week. Even when the Wizards fell down by double digits in the second half, a sign that more threes should be launched, Washington’s top three-point threats responded by taking twos.

The Nets' defense, which dropped coverage and surrendered the midrange, deserves credit. As the game continued, the looks from midrange remained, but Washington’s jump shooters could no longer knock down one of the least efficient shots in basketball. For the night, the Wizards connected on 42.5 percent from the field.

“It’s tough to hit midrange jumpers the whole game,” Rivers said. “We should get layups and shoot a lot of threes, [then] we win games. It’s that simple. That’s what everybody does now anyway.”

Everybody, including Brooklyn. Though the Wizards expected drives and passes and threes, they couldn’t stop the deluge.

The Nets lost guard Caris LeVert to a dislocated right foot in a stomach-churning injury earlier in the week, but the team still had enough to execute an effective plan against Washington’s halfhearted defense. Wizards perimeter defenders couldn’t slow down the ball and allowed Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie to either score or penetrate at will. The duo combined for 14 of the team’s 19 assists and made a combined 16 of 29 shots for 48 points.

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Then, after this rerun in which the Wizards didn’t play defense and later expressed regret about it following the game, another show began in front of a small audience.

As the heckling worker picked up waste around the upper deck of the arena, he grew more and more emboldened and his jeers directed at Howard escalated to the profane.

Howard, who fouled out in 27 minutes attempting to protect the rim, never looked up or heard the man in the yellow shirt. But staffers followed the shouts and notified a manager. The worker finally stopped shouting when he was asked to drop his trash bag and leave. Howard, oblivious to the late-night drama playing out above him, kept on hitting his free throws.

On a night when Washington couldn’t shake its worst inclinations and figure out a defensive scheme that had locked down the three-point arc, at least one Wizards player didn’t let a little adversity stop him from shooting.

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