By Stephen D. Riley, Special to the AFRO
Adding Dwight Howard over the summer was supposed to remediate a lot of the things that ailed the Washington Wizards last season. Adding a defensive anchor, an athletic big who can run with the team’s speedy guards and a headliner to take the pressure off embattled all-star John Wall were summer goals that arrived in one package with the Howard signing. But with the big man on the shelf with a piriformis injury that’s kept him out of summer practices and the preseason, Washington’s big addition has been a big absence. With Howard out, the Wizards look boringly similar to the underachieving unit that they were last year, good enough for an 0-2 start to the 2018 season. The AFRO recaps the week that wasn’t for the Washington Wizards.
October 18: Wizards Suffers Close Loss to Miami, 113-112
The Wizards kicked off the season in typical Washington, D.C. sports teams fashion: losing at the buzzer on a dramatically ridiculous play. A 113-112 home loss to the Miami Heat on Oct. 18 was highlighted by a missed foul and a putback winner. Leading 112-111 with seconds remaining, Wall’s contest on Dwyane Wade’s turnaround resulted in a missed shot and rebound opportunity. Miami’s Kelly Olynyk shoved Otto Porter down in a clear foul but the refs missed it. Olynyk grabbed the rebound and put it back with a second remaining to spoil Washington’s home opener. Despite 46 combined points from Wall and Bradley Beal and a 17-point outing from reserve forward Jeff Green, leaky defense allowed the Heat to score 89 points over the game’s final three quarters.
October 20: Raptors Soar Past Washington, 117-113
Another home game against the Toronto Raptors on Oct. 20 ended in similar crushing fashion in a 117-113 defeat. Trailing 113-111 with less than 20 seconds to play, the Wizards couldn’t get the defensive stop they needed as reserve Raptors guard Fred VanVleet drained an off-balance jumper with three seconds remaining on the Raptors’ shot clock. The same defensive issues from opening night plagued the Wizards once again as they surrendered 93 points over the game’s final three quarters. Wall and Beal again paced the team, combining for 57 points behind a game-high 32 points from Beal.
An 0-2 start just reeks of “here we go again” with this Wizards team, but I’ll reserve judgement until the team gets fully healthy. Howard isn’t going to solve all the defensive issues circling this team but having him would be a start. The Wizards haven’t gotten any production from the center position through their first two games. Popular whipping boy Ian Mahinmi has registered a total of five points and seven rebounds to pair with .500 shooting from the stripe. A quarter of play from Howard should net the same results. There’s no shame in dropping games to upper echelon teams like Miami and Toronto, but if the Wizards are to be considered in that same class they need to drop these teams when they meet, especially at home and especially before they start a brutal five-game road trip. Washington will return to action on Oct. 22 when they start their away slate with a visit to Portland.