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Old ghosts still haunt Wiz despite win against Charlotte

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NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON — With just four games left in the season, the Wizards still have a bunch of room to grow. Their 47th victory of the season — the most in franchise history — demonstrated as much.

Despite coming out on top against the Charlotte Hornets, the Wizards dug themselves another early double digit deficit in the first quarter they had to dig themselves out of. They allowed 63 points in total at the half and a 39-point second quarter from the Hornets. Kemba Walker added 17 of those 39 points and scored 20 overall in the half.

By halftime, it looked as if the Wizards’ three game skid was going to turn into four for the first time all season. If not for a monstrous third quarter from John Wall and an inspired effort from their bench, it probably would have.

Scott Brooks, who normally is not a loud talking coach, said he had a few choice words for his team at the half. And that, apparently, lit a fire under his squad.

“We came out and sometimes when you don’t have that defensive passion it’s hard to get stops in this league. It’s all about playing with that passion. What I keep telling our guys – and they’ve heard it plenty of times – we’re one of the best in the league, once we get a stop, at scoring in transition and scoring early in the shot clock,” Brooks said.

The Wizards are one of the best transition teams in the league. Playing defense to unlock transition opportunities are their bread and butter. Charlotte Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford said as much.

“It was all their defense,” Clifford said. “It was all started with their defense, which is their game and they can turn it into easy baskets up the other end of the floor so they turned up the intensity.”

Their defense is what catapulted them on a 17 game home winning streak. Its what turned their 2-8 start around. The team can score easily. But chaos on one end has always led to creation on the other for this team.

Yet instead, Brooks is reprimanding the team because they aren’t playing with passion in April. At the beginning of the game, he said, the team had to find its “spirit” again. And by halftime it seemed that they had none left for this season.

As for what was discussed at halftime?

“Nothing much,” Wall said. “Play defense. Do you want to quit or do you want to play. It’s simple.”

The team decided they were going to play. And they clawed their way back into the game by holding the Hornets to just 18 points in the third quarter while hanging up 36 themselves.

The Wizards have struggled defensively in recent weeks. Before tonight’s game, they ranked 26th in defensive efficiency since the All Star break while allowing 110.2 points per 100 possessions per NBA.com’s stats tool.

They’ve allowed teams to go where they want when they want and to shoot open threes. For Brooks, that is unacceptable.

“We gave them a lot of open shots. I think they were 14-for-15 and I don’t know if any of them were contested. If you don’t contest shots in this league, that’s what is going to happen,” he said.

And that was the core of the problem. The issues were corrected in the second half, but it remains to be seen whether they will persist or not. The playoffs begin in a little over a week while these issues loom.

Jason Smith, who shot a career high 5-8 from three point range, said the Wizards are not in an ideal spot right now but have time to fix things. The second half of their game against Charlotte was just their first step in righting the ship.

“We have five games to correct it. We’ve had slow starts the past couple of games coming out of All-Star break. We have an opportunity to go deep into the playoffs, but not the way that we’re playing first halves,” Smith said. “We don’t want to be walking into the playoffs, we don’t want to be limping into the playoffs. We want to hit the road running.”