2-7 was not a good way to start the season. But before Wednesday’s game against the 76ers, Wizards fans had a small silver lining they could hang on to: Washington had played a fairly difficult schedule to open the year, facing numerous playoff teams including the conference heavyweights. It seemed reasonable that the Wizards could rattle off a few wins against teams like Philadelphia, New York, Miami, and Orlando to put .500 within an arm’s reach.
Things did not start out as planned on Wednesday night.
Sure, the Philadelphia 76ers have their picture in the dictionary next to “tanking.” They are not a good team, and have not been a good team in some time. This year’s squad started the year 1-9, and that’s an improvement over last year. Going into tonight’s game, the Sixers were also missing their best player, the dynamic rookie center Joel Embiid.
Both teams were cold early, but when Wall went to the bench five minutes into the first quarter they were down just 4 points. Wall wouldn’t return for the rest of the first half (he was playing on a minutes restriction), and the Wizards completely lost control of the game. Philadelphia’s lead ballooned to as much as 24 points. Gortat could not stop Jahil Okafor at the rim, and Philadelphia’s guards had no problem penetrating the Wizards’ defense.
Wall returned to start the 3rd quarter with the Wizards down 11. His presence stopped the bleeding, at least on offense. But the defense was still a disaster. Philadelphia had the 7th worst offensive rating coming into this game, and yet Washington had no answer for them.
Even late-game heroics from John Wall, coupled with and Okafor and Ersan Ilyasova fouling out couldn’t save them: The Wizards lost 102-109, and are now 2-8 on the season. The only saving grace at the moment is that the Sixers are 2-9, so the Wizards are still half a game ahead of the team they just lost to in the standings for now. They host the Knicks in Washington on Thursday.
The battle was lost in the paint
Despite sloppiness with the ball in the first quarter, the Wizards won the turnover battle 11-17. Neither team shot reasonably well from three (The Wizards were 8-23, the Sixers were 10-28). Fast break points and rebounds were roughly equal.
But the Wizards lost the battle for points in the paint, 50-38. While Philadelphia found ways to manufacture good looks, the Wizards struggled to get to the rim and struggled to convert when they got there.
It’s a theme that we’ve touched on many times before and likely will again: A team that struggles to manufacture efficient points the way Washington does needs to have an elite defense. So far the Wizards have yet to show that they can even be average.
TFW the Sixers are blowing you out pic.twitter.com/xu5fRvcz1O— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) November 17, 2016
I understand, kid, I really do.