Wizards’ 3-point defense falling apart after another meltdown

If the Wizards’ low point of the season is still blowing a 35-point lead in the second half to the Los Angeles Clippers, then what happened Monday against the Houston Rockets can come in as a close second.

Against a team with the league’s worst record, the Wizards blew a 23-point first-half lead and lost by 18, 115-97.

In all, it turned out to be a 41-point swing. Yikes.

“We just got lazy,” Wizards wing Kentavious CaldwellPope said.

That laziness was especially true when it came to guarding the 3-point arc. On Monday, the Rockets went 20 of 39 from deep, good for a 51% shooting percentage. That was the best Houston shot all year. Big man Christian Wood nailed eight of his nine shots from beyond the arc and scored a career-high 39.

For the Wizards, the percentage was another sign of defensive decline.

Washington’s 10-3 record to start the season was built on the strength of coach Wes Unseld Jr.’s stingy new defensive scheme and the influx of talent that allowed him to field a top-five unit.

Even when the defense started to slip, the Wizards were still effective in limiting 3-point attempts — a must in the modern NBA.

But lately, the Wizards are failing there, too.

They’re still holding teams to the fewest 3-point attempts overall, but teams are jacking up 33.1 3-pointers per game against the Wizards since the All-Star break — about two more per game than Washington allowed prior.

Further, teams are shooting 38.4% from deep against Washington in that span — the fifth-highest percentage in the league. It’s gotten to be a problem, as it was against Houston.

“If we don’t continue to play the right way,” Unseld said. “We’re not going to have a lot of success.”

The Rockets, in general, are a heavy 3-point shooting team. Unseld said he thought Wood, in particular, got going once he saw his first 3 go in. The Wizards struggled to contain the looks off the dribble, as well.

Still, Unseld boiled down the issues to “competitive fire” — a phrase that sounded awfully familiar for the Wizards. Former coach Scott Brooks often blamed Washington’s defensive miscues on a lack of effort, and that, it appears, has also been a challenge for Unseld. “Sometimes you just have to want it,” Unseld said.

Surprisingly, the Wizards now have a worse defensive rating than they did a year ago. This season, Washington ranks 24th (113.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) — down from 20th (112.1) in 2020-21.

Some of that decline can be attributed to a number of factors. Team leader Bradley Beal, though not known as an elite defender, has been out since February.

The Wizards, too, have known for a while their postseason odds are incredibly slim, and so perhaps they aren’t as locked in on a night-to-night basis compared to last year when the playoffs were attainable.

The Wizards (30-41) have now lost 7 of 8, and could fall to 12th in the East if the Knicks beat the Hawks on Tuesday.

“Defensive wise, there’s not as much effort as we should give,” CaldwellPope said.

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