Not every night can be an on night.
Coming into Sunday's home game against the Phoenix Suns, the Wizards had started December in commanding fashion. They had won 9 out their ten outings led by John Wall playing some of the most inspired ball of his career. As good as the run had been, there had been a certain amount of good luck and timing. When the Wizards weren't playing at their best, they were fortunate to encounter teams unwilling or unable to take advantage of it. The Wizards had just enough defense or John Wall heroics to give the Wizards a win.
This luck ran out Sunday night.
"We just didn't have it," Kevin Seraphin remarked after the game in a succinct summary of the Wizards' troubles against the Suns. The Wizards key players — Wall, Pierce, Nene and Beal — managed just 14-47 on the evening to go along with a season low of 11 assists. Kris Humphries and Marcin Gortat may have shot a little better than their counterparts, but the Suns were consistently beating the Wizards for long rebounds and 50-50 balls. This allowed the Suns to attack the Wizards defense with their small, quick guards and kick the ball outside to the wings for (too many) open looks from three.
"They beat us. They took the game to us every step of the way," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said postgame, remarking on the dominance the Suns had in the physical side of the game. Specifically in the first half when the Suns kept possessions alive with offensive rebounds to force the Wizards to defend multiple shot possessions against the Suns dynamic offense.
Despite the Suns success early on, it was their 3rd quarter dominance that would provide the difference in the game. Goran Dragic scored 12 of his 16 points in third, as the Suns would stretch their lead to as many as 13 points. While the Suns were burning the Wizards on one end, the Wizards couldn't do much to keep up on offense: Wall and Pierce shot 1 for 11 in the quarter.
It wasn't just that the Wizards weren't making shots; they were simply struggling to get open looks.
"They were just denying us everywhere," Bradley Beal said after going 4-11 from the field and getting up just two shots from beyond the arc. The Suns defense forced the Wizards out of their comfort zone and into a lot of one on one play that isn't their strength offensively.
"We let their pressure get the pressure get the best of us," said Paul Pierce, "and we didn't respond to the pressure." This defensive intensity had the Wizards taking contested shots that just weren't falling.
The Wizards were 12 of 39 on contested shots for the game, excluding Kevin Seraphin's effective post play. Nowhere was Washington's struggles to get good looks clearer than midway through the 4th quarter, when, with the Wizards within striking distance, the Suns forced them into consecutive shot clock violations.
The Wizards would cut it to six on a Paul Pierce drive late into the 4th quarter, but the defense couldn't get stops against the Suns quick three headed point guard attack. The Suns eventually pulled away and got a comfortable 104-92 victory.
While the Wizards had survived substandard performances in the earlier in the season, their defense wasn't strong enough to keep them in this game. It was the second game in a row that the Wizards gave up more than 100 points.
"The last couple of games we saw some slippage on the defensive end," Paul Pierce noted after the game. "We ended up giving up over 100 points, and we know, that's not us. We are a defensive team first."
Off nights happen. And in an 82 game season, they'll happen enough times to give opponents a chance to steal games from you at home. On Sunday night, Phoenix was more than ready to take advantage of Washington's weaknesses. With Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls coming to Washington on Tuesday, the Wizards are going to have to find a way to up the intensity.