In the comedy '50 First Dates', there's a character named Ten Second Tom whose short-term memory is wiped every 10 seconds. It's a faintly amusing bit of schtick, and somehow the first thing that came to mind thinking about the Wizards' habitual third quarter ruts.
In a recent interview with SB Nation, Bradley Beal talked about his introduction to the NBA:
You can have one bad game and you can play again less than 24 hours [later]. You need to have a short-term memory. That's a big thing that I learned a lot. Moving on from games, even good games that I have. Move on from them and be prepared for the next night.
That pretty standard rookie speak takes on a different dimension considering the can't-stop-self-destructing third-quarter stretches of play timeouts seem powerless to halt. Why, every fan wonders, can't the team just run a halfcourt set and get back on defense until the bleeding stops? Instead, as has been noted by just about every beat blogger, the Wizards let their opponents dictate the pace and struggle accordingly.
Saturday's third-quarter against Milwaukee was just the latest example. The Wizards have been outscored by at least eight points in the third quarter a whopping 11 times this season, including in a recent home game against Memphis.
Why? As a team, the Wizards like to run. When they run on their terms, buckets rack up like a video game. When they're pushed into running to slow the hurt, things go from meh to bad to worse.
This seems like something coaching should have fixed, but it's difficult to diagnose just what the problem is. Maybe it's as simple as the Wizards getting caught up in the narrative of the game.
Players cultivate a short-term memory from night to night. Forget this game, move on to the next. That's what they say, but it's not what they do. A slumping three point specialist that's 1-6 on the night is still going to draw a lot of attention on the perimeter with the game on the line because basketball isn't game-to-game, it's possession-to-possession. You have the scouting report on every player, a reasonable idea of their capabilities, and nothing matters but the next play. Everything is about the possession.
Watching years' worth of bloody third quarters, it looks like the Wizards forget to focus on each possession when things start to become uncertain and instead look to impose their will on the narrative of the game. Like they try to blow it back open pressing in transition as opposing teams feast on the other end.
To put it simply: the Wiz need more chill. When things start to go wrong, value the possession and get back on defense. It's a staple of any playoff team that expects to go farther than the first round, though it's uncomfortable to even suggest because it seems so painfully obvious. But then again, until the Wizards stop third quarter trouble by applying the brakes and imposing their will in half-court situation the way a playoff team must, what else is there to point to?
In the end, I believe this team's best stretches hinge on the strength of its defense. Defense triggers transition, and in these rough moments, it may be that the players mistake the effect (transition) for the cause (defense). It's always a temptation with John Wall's premium speed to step on the gas, but if the Wizards nearly blow a 28 point lead to the Bucks, can they survive Chicago? Brooklyn? Toronto? Miami?
If this team hangs their hat on defense every night and takes transition as it comes, I expect some noise in the second round. If not? I wouldn't be surprised at a 4-1 first-round exit.