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The Wizards are fighting a battle they can’t win with the referees

Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards - Game Two Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

There have been two very interesting stories involving the Wizards this week that both center around a common theme.

The first story is the theme of their series with the Atlanta Hawks: Foul calls. Play has been physical on both sides, with Hawks accusing the Wizards of using mixed-martial arts, even though Atlanta has attempted 27 more free throws through the first two games.

Washington has overcome the rough play and free throw discrepancy to hold on to home court advantage, but it has clearly thrown them off their game at points. Some of that is just because it’s hard to get out in transition and play their way since both teams are spending time at the free throw line. But there’s also no question the Wizards have been undone at times by trying to force things inside to even up the free throw discrepancy, which takes them out of their game.

It gets back to a theme we’ve seen quite a bit this season: The Wizards’ fight for respect. Even though the Wizards made big improvements this season, particularly on the offensive, they still finished 25th in free throw rate. That’s well below what you would expect from a team that finished 9th in Offensive Efficiency and features one of the best slashers in the league.

The frustration boiled over at several different times during the season, whether it was on the court where John Wall and Markieff Morris combined to pick up 25 technical fouls, or off the court, where Wall was fined earlier this month for criticizing officials after a loss against the Jazz. There’s also a tangible on-court impact that’s connected to this frustration which also ties into the second interesting story of the week.

Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight wrote a piece this week about a new metric he developed called “Lag Rate” which attempts to measure how often a player lingers after a change of possession, usually to argue a no-call with a referee. While the metric isn’t perfect, it offers a glimpse at which players are complaining the most. Not surprisingly, Draymond Green and Russell Westbrook are right at the top of the list. Also not surprising: John Wall and Bradley Beal are also among the top 10 in Lag Rate. Herring even devoted a section of his piece to analyzing Wall:

John Wall: Wall — every bit as explosive as Westbrook, if not more — encounters many of the same issues as the Oklahoma City star. When Wall is bumped in the air while moving at a high speed, he goes flying. As such, his delays in getting back are seemingly split: About half the time, the Wizards guard appears to genuinely fall down; the other half, he is beside himself over a no-call.

One thing that sets Wall apart from many of the others on this list: He’s fast enough to be completely out of a play and then recover in time to force a turnover.

So to sum things up: The Wizards’ squabbling with refs this year has led to technical fouls, cost them money, and has hurt their defensive performance at times. And what do the Wizards have to show for it? Not a whole lot. Washington finished in the bottom-third in free throw rate in the regular season and they’re not faring any better in the playoffs. A deep playoff run will help them earn more respect around the league, but in order to do that, they can’t their current feelings get in the way.

They say the definition of insanity of doing the same thing and expecting a different result. As such, the Wizards need to find a new way to deal with how they’re being treated by the referees moving forward. While the team may have legitimate gripes with how they’re being officiated at times, it doesn’t do them any good to continue to fight their cause by griping at the referees. They’ve shown all season they can compete with anyone, even if they’re not getting all the calls they want. Washington can’t afford to let squabbles that solve nothing trip them up as they try to advance.