With the Eastern Conference looking as wide open as it has in years, the Washington Wizards haven’t exactly shown they’re ready to seize the throne.
Teams in the East appear to finally have a realistic opportunity at knocking off LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs as the reigning conference champions continue to deal with turmoil.
Yet while Boston and Toronto have seemingly appeared to pass Cleveland by, at least in terms of regular season success, Washington have been stuck in mediocrity.
After winning 49 games and coming one victory shy of reaching the conference finals last year, the Wizards were considered to be trending upward as legitimate threats to the Cavaliers, in a similar vein as the Celtics and Raptors.
But through 47 games this season, Washington haven’t been able to keep up with Boston and Toronto and have instead been floating in the middle of the conference with a 26-21 record, near teams like Miami, Indiana and Milwaukee.
The Wizards have dropped five of their last eight and their most recent defeat, a 98-75 thumping at the hands of a Dallas Mavericks team sitting in the basement of the Western Conference, saw them score their second-fewest points this season.
The loss also saw trash talk between Washington’s John Wall and Dallas’ J.J. Barea, with the former saying of the Mavericks’ 6-foot-0 guard: “Just a little midget trying to get mad. I don’t pay him no mind.”
Barea, when told of the comment, fired back by saying: “I don’t like him at all now. But I don’t think his teammates like him, either. So it’s nothing new for him.”
The jab by Barea came a day after the Washington Post put out a story about a Wizards players-only meeting that had the opposite of the desired effect, potentially creating more friction within the team.
“A couple guys took it the negative way, and it hurt our team,” Wall told the Washington Post. “Instead of taking it in a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a little bit.”
Wall has previously acknowledged chemistry issues with backcourt partner Bradley Beal, but whether or not the point guard is liked by his teammates, his declining play this season has been a cause for concern.
Following four straight All-Star appearances, the 27-year-old hasn’t looked like one of the very best players in the East, with his numbers down across the board from his career-high year in 2016-17. His scoring has dropped from 23.1 points to 19.3, while his assists have fallen from 10.7 to 9.2 and his rebounds from 4.2 to 3.6.
More troubling, Wall is shooting just 41.7 per cent after making 45.1 of his shots last season. Wall’s shot has always been a question mark throughout his career, yet even while he’s shooting 3-pointers at a respectable 34.8 per cent clip, his inefficiency from the field is hard to ignore.
Regression has likely resulted in Wall losing ground, from a reputation standpoint, to other top point guards like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry and Damian Lillard, while his own teammate – Beal – has potentially surpassed him as the Wizards’ best player.
It’s also a scary thought for Washington that Basketball Reference calculates them as having the easiest strength of schedule in the entire league so far.
They have time to turn it around and a chance to redeem themselves in the playoffs, but the Wizards have yet to show they can be anything more than they are.
Know more about Sport360 Application