Washington Wizards Winless On The Road Because Of Poor Defense

The Wizards have lost 25 straight road games, but are they really that bad? One thing's for sure: they need to fix their defense in road games.

When Nick Young brought up a perceived lack of consistency on offense during the Wizards most recent winless road trip, head coach Flip Saunders had a simple reply.

"One thing I said to Nick, that part of the problem, if that was the case, is we're talking about offense when it should be about defense," he told Michael Lee. "That's why we've lost 23 straight. Defensively, we haven't had that same presence. We've got to do a better job defensively."

The Wizards have lost their first 25 road games this season, which is not good. It's so inept, in fact, that four more such losses would tie Washington with the 1992-93 Dallas Mavericks for the all-time record at 0-29.

There is no doubt that this Wizards team is bad. But are they THAT bad? In other words, the question is whether this streak accurately represents the overall quality of the team or if the Wizards simply forget to how to play basketball once they step off the plane.

Well, at the time, Saunders' words sounded like simple coach-speak. But a quick look at Washington's home and away split stats (via the indispensable Basketball-Reference.com) reveals how much worse the Wizards are defensively on the road. As NBA FanHouse editor Matt Watson put it, the Wizards have been forgetting to pack their defense!

Let's have a look at some data.

Situation G W-L PPG Opp. PPG
Margin
Home 23 13-10 98.8 97.4 +1.4
Road 25 0-25 95.1 108.5 -13.4

 

Um, so where did the defense go? The Wizards could probably deal with the dip in offensive production (3.7 points per game less on the road) if the drop they didn't allow 11.1 points per game more on the road.

Away from the Verizon Center, the Wizards tumble on defense at three times the rate of their sputtering offense. That's going to result in losses. Lots of them, as we've seen.

To further illustrate the point, let's compare those numbers with the splits from last season, when the Wizards were merely bad on the road and not potentially, historically bad.

Situation G W-L PPG Opp. PPG
Margin
Home 41 15-26 98.1 100.8 -2.7
Road 41 11-30 94.4 101.2 -6.8

 

In this instance, the Wizards defense, while starting with a worse baseline, jumped less than a full point on the road.

Also worth noting is that the last season the  Wizards were being scored on more than they scored -- home and away. This season Washington is actually in the green at home, where the Wizards are winning more than they lose.

Before I subject myself to a scolding from the statistically-advanced crowd, I should point out I could not find any pace adjusted home and away splits (seriously, Internet!?), so these stats are fairly simple.

But Wizards opponents not only score more away from the Verizon Center, they do so more efficiently. The Wizards allow opponents to shoot 36.3 percent from the floor at home vs. 40 percent on the road. And the Points Per Shot jumps from 1.2 to 1.34 on the road for the opposition.

Even taking into consideration the three extra points per game the Wizards surrender at the at the line (perhaps due to referee bias), the margin is still significant.

So yes, those are relatively simple stats. But to me, it suggests that maybe there are some shreds of progress being masked by an ugly, obvious storyline -- "the streak."

The Wizards are far from a good team. But it wouldn't look quite so bad if the team could find a way to play some defense on the road.

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