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Wizards fall victim to familiar foibles in loss to Rockets

NBA: Houston Rockets at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON -- Three years have passed since the Wizards ended their six-year playoff drought in 2014. The Wizards started that season off losing four of their first six games and seven of their first 10, playing against the likes of the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and Dallas Mavericks.

The Wizards were way behind the 8-ball so to speak. They fought to get to the .500 mark throughout the year and, when they got there, they struggled for quite some time to get over the hump and get a winning record. By the end of the season, they figured things out, ultimately landing the 5 seed and a first round matchup against the Chicago Bulls.

The Wizards have started the year slow once again. The team is off to a 1-5 start and stuck trying to pick up the pieces after blowing fourth quarter leads in four of their losses and failing to pull ahead in a close one with the Toronto Raptors.

Just like in the 2013-14 season, the Wizards have seen their share of tough opponents already. The Wizards have hung close in every single game and have played meaningful, competent basketball for 24 to 30 minutes. But they never seem to be able to close the deal.

And that has been the Wizards’ biggest issue this season: Consistency. The Wizards are a -6 in third quarters and -46 (!) in fourth quarters this season. Closing games out has unquestionably been a struggle for this team.

Monday night’s game against the Houston Rockets served as the perfect case in point. The Wizard’s forced James Harden into 5 turnovers and 1 of 4 shooting for just 5 points in the first quarter of the game. By the end of the first half, Harden had just 7 points and only two made field goals.

He finished the game with 32 points and seven more made field goals. He became more aggressive offensively as the game went on, and the Wizards seemed to fold as the Rockets put more and more offensive pressure on them.

A visibly irritated Scott Brooks pointed out the issue after the game. “Teams in the NBA have to play 48 minutes of strong defense to win games” he said. “We haven’t been able to do that. We’ve talked about it enough. Now we have to do it. It’s about everybody doing their job. I have to do a better job of making sure that we’re doing our job.”

And this is what is separating the Wizards from the NBA’s elite. The team has never been able to put together consistent runs in single games or throughout the season. Two years ago, after jumping out to a 22-8 start and a top two seed in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards played under .500 basketball the rest of the way and had to settle for the fifth-best record in the conference. The same thing kept them out of the playoffs last season and threatens to do the same thing this season. Whether it is being able to get a bucket after an opponent puts together a quick run, being able to make plays in the clutch consistently, or getting one final stop, the Wizards just haven’t been able to close the deal.

Defense seems to be the key for them early on, and the players seem to think it is just a matter of want-to at this point for them. Otto Porter characterized their poor effort in the second half as a “mental breakdown.”

“Roll rotation, good communication, not aware. We’ve got to do a better job of knowing who they’re going to,” Porter said. “By this point, everybody gotta look themselves in the mirror and do what we gotta do. It starts with practice. It starts with shootarounds.”

Doubt has not set in for the Wizards yet. Nobody is happy at this point, Bradley Beal said, but the issues they have are correctable. Brooks said finding a rhythm for the Wizards, right now, requires more work in the film room and is not about a lack of talent.

The talent is there. All-Star point guard? Check. A shooter on the wing? Check. A fit-in forward? Check. Good center play? Check. So why isn’t this team good?

No one seems to have the right answers to move forward. But the Wizards better find out before it’s too late once again.