The Washington Wizards have proved themselves capable of winning against the league’s best. They’ve also exhibited an inconsistency that could tank their chances come playoff time.
Following yet another loss to an inferior opponent, Washington will have a tough time bouncing back Monday night on the road against the NBA-best Golden State Warriors, who have been near-untouchable at Oracle Arena this season.
The Wizards (40-30) sit comfortably in the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture with a 9 1/2 game lead over ninth-place Boston, but their struggles since late January have become more than an alarming trend.
After snapping a 4-13 stretch from Jan. 28-March 7 with a five-game winning streak – which included victories over division leaders Portland and Memphis – Washington fell to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday before suffering a one-sided 109-86 loss to lowly Sacramento on Sunday.
The Wizards allowed Los Angeles to convert 52.3 percent from the field and Sacramento to shoot 50.6 percent, both of which rank among their 10 worst defensive performances of the season.
"If we don’t come out more focused on the defensive end than we have the last two games, then we don’t have a chance," coach Randy Wittman said. "That’s pretty much it … We were doing things from an X and O standpoint that we never even talked about doing for a defensive situation. That’s a lack of focus."
Washington had held opponents to under 100 points in 11 straight games before surrendering 111.0 points per game over its last two, and now has dropped 11 of 13 on the road.
It’ll be difficult to right that ship in Golden State (56-13), where the Warriors are 33-2 this season with 12 consecutive wins.
”I wish I could tell you,” John Wall said of his team’s issues Sunday. ”We played defense in Utah (on Wednesday), but we didn’t against the Clippers and tonight as well. We better tomorrow or we’re going to get blown out.”
The Warriors have been without Klay Thompson for their last three contests, yet have shown little sign of slowing in the absence of their second-leading scorer.
They’ve won five in a row and averaged 110.7 points without Thompson, only just below their season-long 113.2 average at home.
Stephen Curry credits coach Steve Kerr for keeping his team focused down the stretch.
”Coach is probably going to treat a lot of games … as playoff-like as possible,” Curry said. ”We just have to play hard, (do) whatever is asked of us these last 13 games, be mentally locked in and focused and continue to win. You don’t want to stumble into the playoffs.”
Curry has scored a modest 20.0 per game over Golden State’s winning streak, but Kerr has especially looked to the Warriors’ bench for more production lately.
He’s received just that in Leandro Barbosa and Andre Iguodala, who have scored in double figures in the Warriors’ last three games.
"LB was great," Kerr said on Saturday. "What we’ve been most impressed with is his defense. He’s gotten dramatically better, both on and off the ball. He’s just such a burst of energy off the bench."
Curry scored 32 in Golden State’s 114-107 win over Washington on Feb. 24, but the Wizards won their last trip to Oracle Arena 88-85 on Jan. 28, 2014, for their only victory in the last eight meetings.