The Wizards have gotten off to a much better start to this season than last season. They have two wins in their first two games. Last season, it took them seven games to reach that win mark.
However, there are still issues. The team’s bench production is still suspect and the team’s lack of three-point attempts is mildly alarming, but the biggest issue continues to be the team’s defense.
Two games into the 2017-18 season, those flaws continue. They’re allowing 106.0 points per 100 possessions, only good enough for the 18th best mark in the NBA. Scott Brooks said the team is “still figuring it out,” a phrase he’s used often since coming to Washington last season. “We have to get better. I’m going to continue to talk about it until they get tired of hearing it.”
Washington’s defensive struggles look worse when you compare Philadelphia’s performance in the season opener as opposed to their games with Boston and Toronto, two of Washington’s chief competitors in the East. The Sixers posted an offensive rating of 106.1 in Washington. Robert Covington played a big part, scoring 29 points and knocking down 7 of his 11 three-point attempts.
At home against the Celtics, Philly had an offensive rating of 90.2, and then on the road against Raptors, their offensive rating was just 85.2 (although it’s worth noting Joel Embiid didn’t play in that game). Covington was only 3-7 combined from deep in the games against Boston and Toronto.
On Friday against Detroit, Washington allowed 65 points in the first half. They followed that up by holding the Pistons to just 16 points in the third quarter to recapture the lead, but then they gave that lead away after giving up a 21-4 run in the fourth quarter. Washington won by the skin of their teeth, thanks to some key plays by John Wall and Bradley Beal in the closing minutes, but the defensive issues made the game much closer than it had to be.
“We know that we aren’t going to play perfect, but at the same time, we need to come out with a defensive mindset,” Beal said after the game. “We can’t go and get down 10, 11 points, you know, the way we did and have to fight and claw back. That’s something that we did all last year and something that we need to try and avoid this season as much as we can..”
The problem with Washington’s defense is simple: Consistency. For quarters, the Wizards show that they can play solid defense, but that only warrants this question: Why can’t the Wizards defend like that every game? It's clear they are more than capable of playing good defense, but their willingness to shut down the opposition for the entire game isn’t there yet.
“I think we held them to 16 points in that third quarter because we were being aggressive, on the ball, they weren’t getting clean looks, and then we got to the big lead, then relaxed and gave them a couple opportunities," Brooks said.
“We have to play with a toughness, we’re not going to stop them scoring every single time, but we got to give ourselves the best chance, and you do that by playing with toughness. The game of basketball is fun, to me, it’s only fun if you compete for 48 minutes. You can’t compete whenever you feel like it, you’re disappointing your teammates and I told them that. You have to compete for your teammates and if you do that, win or lose, we’ll have to live with it and move on to the next game, but I felt we gave them too many opportunities.”
On Monday, Washington begins a four-game road trip that features games against the high-octane Nuggets and Warriors. We’ll see if they can start modeling their defense into respectable status. "We showed glimpses of when we were good, but if we don't pick up defensively on the road, we won't win any games," Wall said. "We got to figure out a way to get back to playing defense consistently."