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The Wizards’ struggles in back-to-backs were a major issue this season

NBA: Washington Wizards at Miami Heat
The Wizards didn’t rest starters in back to backs this season, how did they fare in those games?
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been a lot of debate this season about whether or not teams should rest their starters. But regardless of your opinion on how teams should manage player minutes, we can all agree that we’d be better off if there were fewer games scheduled on back-to-back nights.

The Wizards had their fair share of back-to-backs this year, 16 to be exact. In those games, the Wizards went 7-9, which is the win percentage of a 36 win team. That’s not terrible until you look at the games more specifically and put a magnifying glad up to the record. The Wizards lost a number of these games to teams with losing (or close to losing) records, teams they should beat, on back to backs. Charlotte, Dallas, Indiana, Orlando TWICE, and Chicago all gave the Wizards losses on back to backs. One of those Orlando games was at home!

In the 66 games that were not at the end of back-to-backs, they outscored opponents by 2.5 points per game. In the 16 back-to-back games, the Wizards have been outscored by half a point per game. Believe it or not, the offense doesn’t change much. Washington actually averaged one point more per game on back-to-backs than they did in other games. The difference lies more on the defensive end.

In the 16 games the Wizards played with 0 days of rest, they allowed 111.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s a full four points higher than their season average. There have been some specific games of this nature that have been extraordinarily worse than other. Dallas, the worst offense in the league by almost 3 whole points per game, hung 113 on the Wizards back in early January. The third worst offense in the league, Orlando, put up 124 in the Verizon Center at the start of December. These figures are atrocious.

But why is the defense so much worse? Is it just general tiredness or is there a specific cause? Well after taking a look at each game, it’s clear what gets so much worse for the Wizards: Perimeter defense. In 14 of the 16 back to back games the Wizards had a wing player on the opposing team score well above their season average. Here is a list of the wing players who destroyed the Wizards on back-to-backs, with their season scoring average listed first followed by how many points they were able to score against the Wizards:

  • MagicJeff Green (9.2 PPG) Scored 18
  • BullsJimmy Butler (24 PPG) Scored 37
  • Spurs – Jonathan Simmons. (6 PPG) Scored 15
  • Magic part 2 – Jeff Green AGAIN (9.2 PPG) Scored 20
  • Mavs – Harrison Barnes (19 PPG) Scored 26
  • CelticsJae Crowder (13 PPG) Scored 20
  • KnicksCarmelo Anthony (22.4 PPG) Scored 34
  • Raptors – Norm Powell (8.4 PPG) Scored 17
  • Nuggets - Gary Harris (15 PPG) Scored 26.
  • Blazers – C.J. McCollum (23 PPG) Scored 34
  • Clippers – JJ Reddick (15 PPG) Scored 31.

Clearly, the Wizards have trouble stopping wing players when they play two games in two days. It’s expected that they would play worse in these games, but it seems crazy that the Wizards have to play worse defense in these games due to scheduling, not due to their own lack of ability.

Last month on The Full 48 podcast, Howard Beck had NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on and they talked about the NBA rest issue. Silver floated the idea of shortening the preseason so the season could be a week longer to deplete the number of back to backs. He also mentioned the league is looking into ways to cut the number of times a team would play 4 games in 5 nights, essentially having one day off in between back to backs.

The Wizards, fortunately, only had one such instance of the four games in five days situation. From March 7-March 11, the Wizards played at Phoenix, at Denver, then had a day off before playing at Sacramento, then at Portland. Most teams fared pretty poorly in these 4 in 5 situations, but the Wizards were able to win all 4, even though the last two games went into overtime. (It also helped that Markieff Morris didn’t have to stay within the confines of the court against Portland.)

While it should be noted that they won all four of these games, it should also be noted that they did not play good defense in any of them. They gave up 121.5 points per game in this stretch, but their offense carried them to victory in each game (note that all four of the teams they played are pretty awful on defense).

Some teams go with another strategy in back to backs, they just totally punt on one of the games and take the loss. The Wizards essentially never did this, but was that the smart strategy? Well, maybe. In the next game immediately following a back to back, the Wizards went 8-8. 5 of those 8 losses came after a situation where the Wizards lost the second game of a back to back. Had the Wizards just totally punted on those back-to-backs they probably would have lost anyway. Maybe punting those games would have allowed them to win the following game instead of lose, but hindsight is 20/20.

Nobody around the league seems to know what the solution is to the scheduling conflicts regarding back to backs. Many teams chose to simply rest their players to avoid injuries in these games and just take the loss. The Wizards, and specifically John Wall himself, have stated their adamant position against resting players. If the Wizards had the same winning percentage in back to backs as they did in other games, they would have won 10 of the 16 back to backs, and had 53 wins. That would have tied them with Boston for the best record in the East. Clearly, the back to backs are hurting team and player performance. Hopefully, next season will contain less back to backs on the schedule so teams can play at their full strength more often.