The Wizards just got through a tough four-game stretch in their schedule that tells us a lot about what to expect the rest of the season. They split a home-and-home with the Miami Heat, then, Washington went on the road and lost to Toronto before bouncing back 24 hours later to beat the Bucks in Milwaukee.
Yes, I know there are over 60 games left in the regular season, but the Wizards’ past four games mean a lot. A LOT.
In last Wednesday’s game in Miami, the Wizards were able to out-defend a defensive-minded team. After leading by as much as 12 points, the Heat started to come back after a poor third quarter from the Wizards. Then, the Wizards turned up the … heat … and held Miami to just seven field goals in the fourth quarter. More impressively, they held them to just two fast-break points, which didn’t come until late in the game.
Sure, the Heat have a losing record at the moment, but they are certainly a playoff-caliber team that’s given Washington fits in the past and has a deeper bench than the Wizards. So winning on the road against a team that often a) wins at home and b) wins against Washington — a big deal for the Wizards, and gives a glimpse into how the team could and would want to play should they face Miami in the playoffs.
However, it was a different story when they faced off again on Friday.
After a fairly cold — read: very cold — first half, the Wizards came back against the Heat to pull it to within two. Beal passed up an open look at a three-pointer on the final possession (to win) for an off-the-dribble two (to tie) and the Wizards eventually lost 91-88.
In that game, Wall was playing with a hurt knee — he told reporters after the game he was “looking like some butt out there” — the Wizards shot 28 percent from beyond the arc and the bench had just 24 combined points.
“We didn’t make shots,” he said after the game. “We got down on ourselves. When we got down on ourselves, we put our heads down instead of running back and making up for it on the other end. The stats basically tell you that. They had 19 fast-break points in the first half,” Brooks said post-game.
Remember what I said about fast-break points for the Heat?
Fast forward to Sunday’s game at Toronto — another game against another team the Wizards could face in the playoffs.
It was the second time Wall missed a game all season, and the second time Wall missed a game while Washington was visiting Toronto. Despite a near triple-double from Marcin Gortat and a 27-point effort from Bradley Beal, the Raptors had 50 points in the paint and avenged their only home loss of the season in a 100-91 win.
Not a good way to start of their first back-to-back of the season. Right?
The next night in Milwaukee against a well-rested Bucks team, the Wizards were aggressive defensively with Wall back in the lineup and held Milwaukee to just 88 points to pick up a very important road win.
After a shaky start to the season with some embarrassing losses, this stretch was a good sign of things to come. They were just a shot away from winning back-to-back games against a team that swept them last season, and played well on the road in a back-to-back against two of the better teams in East, even with John Wall not fully himself.
The Wizards, currently at 10-7, sit atop the Southeast Division and are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference, just 1.5 games behind the second-seeded Raptors. They rank fourth in the Eastern Conference in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency.
The Wizards don’t have everything figured out — the defense is erratic, the bench often doesn’t pull its weight, and injuries are becoming concerning — but they do seem to have enough figured out that if they playoffs were to start today, they could win a series (or two).