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The Washington Wizards can't hold on to leads

Washington has blown several big leads in recent weeks. It's not a coincidence.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

As Nick Bilka detailed after Wednesday's game, the Wizards have struggled to hold on to leads late in games. Wednesday, they blew a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter against the Pacers, they nearly blew a 25 point lead against the Blazers last week, and they almost gave up a 35 point lead to the Heat earlier this monthwhich would have been a historic collapse.

In a 82 game season, everyone's going to blow leads. Basketball is a game of runs, and in the NBA you're going to end up on the wrong side of some runs that decide games. That's just the way things work. It's silly to get too upset about a few blown leads, even when they're as unsightly as some of the ones we've seen over the past month.

Unfortunately for the Wizards, under-performing late in games isn't a recent anomaly. Win or lose, the Wizards have progressively performed worse as the game goes along. Note how the Wizards' Net Rating (the team's point differential per 100 possessions) drops the closer the game gets to the finish:

Wizards Slump

(Clutch defined the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, where neither team was ahead by more than five points.)

To examine it another way, here's how the Wizards performance compares to the rest of the NBA from quarter to quarter (rank in parenthesis):

1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Clutch Situations
Offensive 105.2 (9th) 101.9 (18th) 100.5 (22nd) 100.6 (22nd) 104.1 (12th) 97.2 (22nd)
Defensive 98.0 (5th) 98.7 (7th) 99.3 (7th) 105.4 (25th) 112.0 (23rd) 109.0 (22nd)
Net +7.2 (10th) +3.2 (9th) +1.2 (15th) -4.9 (23rd) -7.9 (18th) -11.9 (25th)

The numbers show the Wizards' offense is pretty impressive in the first quarter but is below-average afterwards. On the flip side, defensively, the Wizards are an outstanding outfit until the final quarter, when they turn into one of the worst defenses in the league.

So what causes the dropoff? Here's a few theories:

  • The John Wall effect fades after the shock wears off: You know how they say everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth? The same might apply with John Wall's speed. Everyone knows he's fast, but it's impossible to replicate in practice. Perhaps the Wizards are performing better offensively early on because it takes teams time to adjust to Wall's burst.
  • Old legs: The Wizards have one of the oldest teams in the NBA this season, and they rely more and more on those veterans as games get tight in the closing minutes. Having all that experience is great, but maybe the team is asking those veterans to dig a little too deep in the closing minutes and it's costing them.
  • Coaching adjustments: More effort isn't always the answer. When opposing teams make adjustments with playcalling and personnel, the Wizards haven't been great at adapting. In fairness to the coaching staff, it's difficult to make a lot of personnel changes when the roster is so top-heavy, but it's something they clearly haven't figured out this season.