When the Washington Wizards lost a hard fought game to the undermanned Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, it was a sign that their struggles from February may carry over into March.
Although Washington has looked like a contender in the Eastern Conference many times this season, they have hit a wall during February. The Wizards went 3-9 over the month, limping to the finish by losing six out of their last seven games to end February.
Tuesday was an opportunity for Washington to turn the page on their recent struggles against their budding rivals. Chicago was also without Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. But instead it was Chicago who answered the challenge.
Chicago’s Pau Gasol, Aaron Brooks and Nikola Mirotic each scored over 20 points on their way to a 97-92 victory.
It was a rough night for Washington’s electric backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. The pair combined for 34 points but usually shot just 14-for-38 from the field.
What has made Washington’s struggles so puzzling are that they still have the same pieces that are capable of winning as playoff series.
The Wizards still play above average defense and are allowing 98 points per game, which is 10th in the NBA. However their offensive numbers have started to slip. Washington is scoring just 98.6 points per game, which is 20th in the NBA.
Although Wall has played great all season, Washington could use some more scoring out of Beal. In his third season in the NBA, Beal’s scoring has dipped from 17.1 points per game to 14.8 points per game.
This is also a result of Beal’s shot attempts decreasing with the addition of Paul Pierce, a veteran scorer during clutch moments. Beal has gone from 15.7 attempts per game to 13.3 attempts.
It is clear that Washington is a better team when Beal plays well. In the 25 victories that Beal has played in this season, he has shot 45 percent from the field while he has shot just 38 percent in games that they lose. For Washington to fix things down the stretch they should look to get Beal involved early and often in games.
What has to be most concerning to Washington is that they have now lost eight straight games on the road. For a team that has now fallen to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, that means that they would have to play a road playoff series. Washington has been just 13-17 on the road this season.
If Washington can get their mojo back they will be able to compete for a fourth seed – but they do not want to let things slide any further in the month of March.