It feels like such a long time ago that the Washington Wizards were in first place in the Eastern Conference, winning 13 of their first 20 games. Since Nov. 29, however, Washington has gone 8-13, dropping it all the way down to ninth place in the East at 21-20. Talk about a fall from grace.
The Wizards were one of the early shocks of the year, along with the Chicago Bulls in the East. Chicago has continued upward and holds a 2.5-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets for first place in the conference. The Wizards have gone the opposite way, and the odds of them getting this ship back on course are slim.
It didn’t take long for drama to surface in the Wizards’ locker room with teammates speaking publicly about Bradley Beal and the number of shots he gets compared to others. Montrezl Harrell and Spencer Dinwiddie both voiced their dissatisfaction with how the offense is running back in December. In fairness to Beal, he is taking three fewer shots per game this year than he did in either of the last two seasons. Obviously, this hasn’t been enough to keep Washington on track.
Beal is averaging just 24 ppg this season in 34 games played. That’s his lowest ppg since the 2017-18 season. On top of that, Beal has been placed into the NBA’s COVID health and safety protocol for the second time in less than a month. Call it bad luck, funky karma, or whatever, but the last six weeks have not been kind to the Wizards. Defense is by far one of their biggest flaws, ranking 22nd in defensive rating. With a lineup that features Beal, Harrell, and Dinwiddie coming off an ACL injury, it’s no wonder the team is suffering defensively.
It really felt like they’d finally done something right in the trade for Russell Westbrook that brought Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Kyle Kuzma over from the Lakers. They undoubtedly did the right thing in trading Westbrook, but the team just hasn’t performed up to their early season standard of late. Beal scoring over 30 ppg didn’t work for Washington, and now he’s scoring much less, and they’re still on the struggle bus. This franchise just cannot catch a break.
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In a report released this morning by The Athletic, team sources told them about a fight in the locker room during halftime of Tuesday night’s 122-118 win against the Thunder. Things got physical between Harrell and Caldwell-Pope after Harrell became enraged over Caldwell-Pope not passing him the ball on a particular play in the first half. Although they got the win over OKC (which isn’t saying much), this latest locker room episode sort of encapsulates the downward spiral this team has been trapped in since December. When it rains, it certainly does pour.
The Wizards are currently still in the play-in playoff picture, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to stay afloat during the second half of the season. This is a talented team, and they have some pieces around Beal now and should be playing much better than they have over the last month’s worth of games. It sounds like it might be time for one of those “infamous” players-only meetings once Beal returns to the team from health and safety protocols.
Washington has some things to address ASAP. Whether it’s the defense, the flow of the offense, or teammates squaring up to throw down. There are still 41 games left to get everyone back on the same page. Head coach Wes Unseld Jr. has an enormous task on his hands with this group. We’ll see if they can get back into contention among the top six in the East or if they’ll do what the Wizards usually do and fade off into oblivion.