The competitive portion of the Wizards’ Bubble season is now complete. They lost by eight to the depleted Brooklyn Nets to fall seven games behind them. They’ll need to make up three games in the standings with six to play — and their schedule consists of the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics. All are probable losses for the Wizards.
In the loss to the Nets, the Wizards failed on defense primarily because of excessive fouling. Washington defenders were called for 31 fouls, which resulted in 37 Nets free throw attempts (they made 31). Brooklyn shot poorly as a team (.483 efg) but controlled turnovers and got high-efficiency trips to the free throw line.
Wizards perimeter defenders consistently failed to execute basic force rules — they allowed penetration to the middle and let Nets players go to their strong hands whenever they wanted.
On offense, the Wizards were okay overall but continued to struggle with shooting (just 9-31 from three-point range) and an inability to execute a cohesive offensive strategy. They tried several times in the first half to post Rui Hachimura against smaller Nets defenders. The rookie struggled to establish position when Brooklyn got physical.
Several times, Thomas Bryant had the ball on the perimeter in position to work one of the handoff plays Wizards fans have seen a gazillion times with Bradley Beal. With Beal not in Orlando, Bryant was short on handoff partners and possessions foundered.
Wizards vs. Nets Four Factors
The team that shoots better from the floor wins about 78% of the time in the NBA. The Wizards outshot Brooklyn, but “lost” each of the other factors. Shooting is the most important factor, but it’s not everything.
While the loss is disappointing for those hoping the Wizards could somehow claw into the postseason, the team got a terrific performance from Thomas Bryant — 30 points and 13 rebounds. Even better, Bryant showed solid defensive awareness, did a good job positioning on most defensive possessions and seemed more comfortable with the team’s shift to drop coverage on pick and roll (they’ve mostly had big men hedge during the 2019-20 season). On several plays, he kept ball handlers from getting a free run at the rim while also keeping contact with the roll man.
He still had some execution errors — in the fourth quarter he made an excellent rotation on a Caris LeVert drive, forced LeVert into a difficult leaning jumper, and then screwed it up anyway by swatting for the ball instead of maintaining his verticality and trusting his positioning. He ended up sending LeVert to the free throw line.
Still, it was an excellent performance from Bryant, who made 7-12 from outside 12 feet, including 4-6 from three-point range. He’s developed into a legitimate stretch big, which should help teammates as opponents update their scouting reports.
Also encouraging for the Wizards was the all-court game of Troy Brown, Jr. — 22 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Brown needs the ball in his hands to be at his best, and he got it against the Nets. He and Bryant showed some nice chemistry in pick and roll, though Brown’s inability to threaten the defense with his jumper provided less space for them operate.
Hachimura’s game was disappointing. The Nets clearly targeted him with double teams but he was indecisive about how to attack or how to even find the open man. He struggled against Brooklyn’s physicality on post up attempts.
In the second half, the Wizards tried getting him the ball on the perimeter. He still didn’t attack, though — generally just passing the ball back to the PG so the team could run a different action.
His lack of a three-point shot hurts him and the team. In the fourth quarter, he had an open look from long range when the Nets defender played under a Bryant screen. Hachimura drove laterally (not turning the corner decisively to get into the paint) and pulled up for an 18-footer. Except, because his defender could comfortably play under the screen, he was able to navigate player traffic and meet Hachimura in the middle and challenge the jumper. It missed.
Below are PPA scores for the Wizards and Nets. PPA is my per possession production metric. In PPA, 100 is average and higher is better.
Next for the Wizards is the second game of their lone back-to-back of The Bubble. They’ll take on the Indiana Pacers. It’s a probable loss for Washington.