Wizards’ failure to stop 3-pointers could doom playoff chances

February 5, 2019

Midway through the third quarter of the Monday’s 137-129 loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks, Scott Brooks was already down to his last timeout. As Atlanta made run-after-run, the Wizards coach repeatedly called time in an attempt to stop the damage.

It ultimately didn’t make a difference.

“We ran out of timeouts,” Brooks said, “but we ran out of a lot of things tonight.”

At the center of the Wizards’ loss against the Hawks was a problem that has been an issue all season Washington’s inability to stop the 3.

The Hawks (18-35) drained 20 of 41 3-pointers, converting 48.8 percent of their attempts. But Washington (22-31) entered the contest with the second-worst defense from deep this season, trailing only the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the league’s worst record. Simply put, this wasn’t an anomaly.

Teams are now shooting 37.2 percent from deep against the Wizards this season.

“We gotta be better,” Brooks said. “The league is shooting 3s beyond the 3-point line. You can’t just close to the line anymore. You’ve got to close to the body. The only way you can make a guy miss, a guaranteed miss is not let him shoot. We allowed too many guys to get the shots up.”

The Wizards have failed to close out consistently this season. Before Monday’s game, Washington allowed an average of seven 3-pointers made per game in which the closest defender was 6 or more feet away from the shooter or what the NBA classifies as “wide open.”

That’s tied for fifth-most in the NBA.

Some of these problems aren’t just related to breakdowns in coverage. Sometimes, it’s an overall lack of awareness of knowing a team’s tendencies. For example, under coach Lloyd Pierce, the Hawks shoot the fourth-most attempts of deep. But too often, the Wizards struggled to put a hand up in time.

In general, teams are launching more 3-pointers than ever before. The San Antonio Spurs attempt the fewest per game at 24.8, but that would have ranked first 15 years ago when the defunct Seattle Supersonics led the league with 23.6 attempts.

By comparison, the Houston Rockets jack up 44.3 attempts from deep this season.

So given the frequency, why have the Wizards had such a tough time defending it?

“I mean, you’ve got to give up something,” said forward Jeff Green, who had 26 points. “You can’t take away everything. These guys are in the NBA for a reason. You’ve got to pick and choose what you want to do. If you’ve just had bad luck with 3-point defensive percentage it’s just got to be something we can correct and we will correct.”

Green said the Wizards have to do a better job of letting opponents get into a rhythm early on. Atlanta made five of their first seven three-point attempts, which helped them go up by double digits in the first. They led by 15 by the end of the quarter.

Despite a fourth-quarter rally from Washington, Atlanta made a barrage of 3-pointers late to seal the game, one which was banked in from 23 feet away by forward Taurean Prince with 33 seconds left to put Atlanta up 9. Admittedly, there wasn’t much the Wizards could have done on that one.

But overall, the problem remains.

Nine games under .500 and three games back of a playoff spot, the Wizards have 32 games left to come up with a solution.

“We have to use these (remaining games) to our advantage to try and put ourselves in a position to get in the playoffs,” Green said. “And I think we will.”