Wizards' defensive issues creating smaller margin for error originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The airtight defense the Wizards have played with for most of this season has not been quite the same in recent days. Not to the point where it has led to a long losing streak, but it has changed the calculus when it comes to their margin of error. All of a sudden they are seeing the dramatic ups and downs from game to game they were able to avoid early on.
On Saturday, for instance, they were able to lock down defensively in the second half to beat the Mavs after giving up 69 points in the first half. But on Monday, their defense slipped up in the third quarter and the result was a lopsided loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
The Wizards closed their road trip 2-2 with both losses by double digits and to teams with losing records. In these last four games, they have allowed three of their five highest points totals this season.
Against the Spurs, the Wizards gave up 116 points, including 39 in the third quarter and 32 in the fourth. San Antonio scored 72 points in the paint and beat the Wizards 17-0 on the fastbreak.
"Overall, we failed in three areas that we've talked about. Transition, offensive rebounds and the paint," head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. "We just can't spot a team 72 points in the paint and think it's going to go in your favor. A lot of that is transition, a lot of that is on the glass. Some of that was coverage, as far as short and midrange twos, but the bottom-line is those are the three areas we've talked about in the game and we didn't do it tonight."
Points in the paint has been an interesting stat for the Wizards this season. Overall, they haven't been great at limiting teams in that area. They place 24th in the league, allowing 47.7 paint points per game.
During their hot start to the season, Unseld Jr. was asked about how their defense had played well. He brushed the praise aside and said he wanted to see improvement at defending the paint. Soon after, they passed some difficult tests in that regard by beating the Ja Morant-led Grizzlies and the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Bucks.
But they haven't been consistent enough for Unseld Jr.'s liking and the Spurs' 72 paint points were the most the Wizards have allowed in a game this year. Only two games this NBA season have featured a team scoring more points in the paint than San Antonio did on Monday.
Though the Wizards' big men form their last line of defense in the paint, Bradley Beal said he and his fellow guards need to do more to help. He believes there are some minor details of the game they can execute to add more structure to the team's defense.
"Physicality, being physical. I think that starts with us guards on the ball. Getting into our guy, kind of directing them where we want pick-and-rolls and how guys are driving the ball. Tonight, I think guys were a little bit too free," Beal said.
"We allowed them to get into our paint and get whatever they wanted. There were a lot of floaters, a lot of midrange touch shots, a lot of layups, putbacks, offensive rebounds. So, we more or less put ourselves in those predicaments. We've gotta be better."
While Washington's defense has peaked as a top-five unit in the NBA, they have now slipped to 12th in efficiency. Combined with the 18th-ranked offensive rating and their net rating is just +0.1, good for 15th in the NBA. That's middle of the pack, not where their 13-8 record, good for third in the East and sixth in the league, suggest they should be.
It's not hurting them significantly yet, but certainly the Wizards would prefer to get back to playing the brand of defense they displayed at the start of this season.