Free-throw shooting costs Wizards some close victories

The foul line is where the Wizards lost their chance at a winning record Wednesday, and area where they’ve been weak all season. The Dallas Mavericks were 21 of 23. The Wizards only made seven of 10. 

“We’ve got to continue to develop our game to get to the rim to get fouls on bad shooting nights,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “I think that was really the difference. We didn’t make shots, they didn’t, but in the end they were able to get to the free throw line more.”

Three losses can be directly attributed to foul shooting:

  • Shot 5 of 9 from the line in a 75-74 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 9. Minus-3 in made foul shots.
  • Shot 11 of 18 in a 101-99 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 13. Minus-7 in made foul shots. 
  • Shot 13 of 26 in a 106-105 OT loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 10. Minus-5 in made foul shots.

The Wizards (14-15) rank just 28th in made free throws per game at 15.8. They’re 24th in attempts at 20.8. 

With the exception of the Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, who play a more perimeter-oriented game rather than through their bigs in the low post, the teams in the bottom half of the rankings are either below .500 or barely above it after Wednesday’s games. 

The best teams, such as Thunder, are masters at manufacturing points at the foul line. Part of the reason is that they have superior individual talents in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (now injured) who can create contact to get the whistles and both shoot high percentages at the line. When they had James Harden, the Thunder were by far the best in the NBA in this category because they had three of the top 10 players in free throws attempted and made and their frequency and accuracy would actually rise in the clutch (the last five minutes of games when a team is ahead or behind by five points or fewer). 

For the Wizards in that clutch situation, they shoot 84.3% from the foul line which puts them sixth in the NBA. That’s exceptional.

They also average 3.9 attempts, tied with the Indiana Pacers for seventh-most. The Wizards make 3.3 of those, which puts them in a three-way tie for fifth-best in the league.

Overall, however, is where the Wizards need to do a better job in manufacturing points. With Nene and Marcin Gortat in the low post they don’t have an excuse because they run so much offense through them. The Wizards don’t have a player in the top 20 in attempted free throws in the NBA.

For context, Durant leads everyone with 9.4 attempts per game. He makes 8.2, also best in the league, for 87.9%.

Wall makes 4.6 per game — best on the team and 18th overall — on 5.3 attempts for 85.3%.

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