Wizards close the year with another loss, fall to 0-5
By Ava Wallace,
The Washington Wizards could have hardly asked for more ideal circumstances Thursday night at Capital One Arena. Facing a Chicago Bulls team missing four players because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the hosts had 48 hours to correct what went wrong after losing to the same opponent Tuesday night.
Instead, they kicked off New Year’s Eve with another head-scratching loss, this one by a 133-130 margin. The Wizards (0-5) will start 2021 in Minnesota on Friday still looking for their first win of the season.
“Yeah, everybody’s pissed,” Bradley Beal said in a postgame video conference. “But in a good way, we’re pissed off.”
The lasting image of Thursday’s loss was Beal keeled over, hands on his knees, after driving to the basket with 14 seconds to play, his team trailing by one, only to lose control of the ball at the rim. The Wizards had turned in 48 minutes of near nonexistent defense, yet they still had chances to steal a win in the final minute thanks to a dynamic offense. But they couldn’t finish.
For the first time this season, Washington had a fully healthy roster. Forward Rui Hachimura made his return a week ahead of schedule after missing two weeks with pinkeye. The Bulls were missing starter Lauri Markkanen and a trio of bench players, all of whom were held out by the league to guard against the spread of the coronavirus.
But the Wizards failed to take advantage, and for all the myriad issues the team has dealt with, Thursday’s fatal flaw wasn’t hard to pinpoint. Their defense did them in, with a little help from poor late-game execution.
“It was obviously defense,” Hachimura said. “We’re just giving up easy balls and stuff. I think they shot a lot of free throws. . . . We’re just giving them easy balls, and they were just comfortable to do everything. Shoot threes, drive, kick out. They were doing whatever they want.”
Coach Scott Brooks and General Manager Tommy Sheppard said multiple times during the offseason that the team’s No. 1 priority was to get better on defense — improvement Brooks believed could happen within the group the Wizards already had.
But if strides have been made, they’ve been tough to discern. The problem was never more evident than when Washington scored 68 points in the first half Thursday and still trailed by three. The Bulls shot 54.3 percent from the field.
Beal had 28 points, including 12 makes at the free throw line. Starting center Thomas Bryant had 28 as well on a stellar offensive night, shooting 10-for-11 from the field.
Russell Westbrook, who did not speak with reporters after the game, logged his fourth triple-double of the season for naught, scoring 22 points with 11 assists and 10 rebounds. Hachimura had 17 points in 25 minutes.
None of it was enough to overcome their defensive issues.
Otto Porter Jr. led the way for the Bulls with 28 points on 10-for-14 shooting, including 5-of-9 from three. Chicago surrendered its 11-point lead in the third quarter when Raul Neto made back-to-back three’s with just under five minutes to play, but Washington again couldn’t create enough space and couldn’t get the necessary stops.
Beal’s miscue on a nice backdoor feed from Bryant on the team’s penultimate possession was the most costly.
Down three with three seconds to go, Hachimura overthrew an inbounds pass three-quarters of the way down the floor, one final turnover.
But the late-game flubs were fitting in a game the Wizards hadn’t controlled since the second quarter. In the third, they worked their way back to a four-point lead before a three-minute scoring drought sapped whatever offensive energy they began with. They started the fourth quarter trailing by 11.
“I thought we forced shots. Didn’t take a couple of good ones, and then we couldn’t get any stops in that third quarter. I thought we maybe had a chance to extend things, but yeah. We couldn’t get any stops, and it was going to come down to who made the last shot,” Brooks said.
“It’s not an effort thing. We’re playing hard, we just have to play better.”
Despite the dismal start and a brutal schedule ahead — Washington plays Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Boston and Miami in the first few days of January — Brooks and Beal remain optimistic that Washington can turn things around.
Asked if he has had any conversation with Sheppard, the general manager, given the team’s direction, Beal scoffed and preached patience.
“Come on, we’re only five games into the year,” Beal said. “Those conversations haven’t been had; Shepp hasn’t come to me saying we need to do something, or Brooks either. We’re okay. . . . We’ve just got to be better with the guys that we have. We can’t make that excuse, ‘Oh, we’re not talented enough, we don’t have the guys.’ I think that’s BS. We’re all in the NBA for a reason, you know.
“Everybody’s getting paid to do this. We got the best job in the world. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be prepared every game, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be ready to go as soon as the jump ball’s in the air. We’re rockin’ with what we got.”