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When "Close" Is Really Far Away

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There has developed a notion around this Wizards team that their season has perhaps been derailed as much by an inability to "win close games" as by suspension, injury, or just generally not being very good.  With last night's loss, the Wizards have now lost 9 games decided by three points or less.  Evaluating the team as one that just needs a few more points in a few more games is, however, off base.

The Wizards' "pythagorean record," or expected record based on points scored and points allowed,  is 18-32, as opposed to the team's real record of 17-33.  So, they profile only one win better than they sit in the standings.

Notably, along with those 9 losses in close games, they have 4 wins in close games (again, going with games decided by 3 points or less as "close").  That 4-9 record amounts to a .307%, which worse, but only slightly worse, than the team's overall .340%.  Indeed, just winning their next close game would bring their close-game record roughly back in line with their overall record.  

They are 6-12 in games decided by 5 points or less, so that too is representative of their overall performance. Which, of course, means that in games that aren't within 5 points, their record is 11-21, hardly the hallmark of a good team.

Finally, even if you flip their won-lost mark in close games, and make the team, say, a remarkable 12-6 in the 5-point games, they would STILL have a record of 23-27, a full game behind Miami for the 8th spot in the East.  

Perhaps the most charitable case that can be made for the team is playing the suspension/injury card.  Projecting a healthy Mike Miller playing at the level he has managed since coming back, a healthy Antawn Jamison for the early-season stretch he missed, and imagining that Gilbert Arenas hadn't been lost to suspension, Win Shares implies we could expect about 5 more wins to date--good enough to be in the hunt for the 8th seed, but still well short of expectations.  (This does, however, assume Arenas's season performance is just spread out, which misses that his play had picked up considerably since the middle of December.  Adding THAT Arenas AND circa 05-06 Caron Butler.....sigh.)

Now, it may be that the idea of being "close" is just what the players and coaches have to use to keep some semblance of motivation and spirit in such a dismal season, and that's probably something to be applauded, not criticized.  Let's just hope the front office hasn't bought into the idea.