The Wizards lost to the Kings on Sunday night for, basically, the same reasons they lose every game: defensive lapses (especially down the stretch), Beal wasn’t able to single-handedly carry the offensive burden, the referees didn’t show the Wizards any love (or respect), Brooks went away from productive lineups for weird ones, and the broadcast crew was unwilling to say anything remotely in the vicinity of critical about Rui Hachimura.
Okay, that last one didn’t have anything to do with the outcome but it still bothers me. Rui gets blocked at the rim a little too frequently but it’s always characterized as “the ball got poked away” and when he gets bullied on the boards by people like Bjelica, it’s because “the ball took a funny bounce off the rim.” He’s a rookie. It’s okay to point out that he has some things to work on or say he needs to get stronger. That doesn’t mean he isn’t still having a good rookie season. Alright, diatribe over. Back to the game!
It was hard to tell if the Kings started a bit slowly because of anything the Wizards were doing defensively, or if it was because they were out of rhythm after losing some key players to injuries. The Kings were without their offensive maestro, De’Aaron Fox, and one of their best finishers in Marvin Bagley.
On that note, has anyone else noticed that teams always seem to be somewhat depleted when they play the Wizards? The Wolves missed Towns and Wiggins each in a game, Indiana did not have Myles Turner or Jeremy Lamb, the Magic missed Jonathan Isaac, Boston was without Gordon Hayward, Detroit missed Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, and Derrick Rose.
Whatever the reason, the Wizards held the Kings to only 24 first-quarter points. They started slowly offensively themselves, only scoring 27. Bradley Beal was noticeably quiet, only shooting 1 time in the quarter. Isaiah Thomas went 1-for-4 and Troy Brown looked totally out of sorts, going 0-for-3 with some particularly ugly misses.
In the second quarter, it was relatively more of the same. For most of the quarter, the Wizards bench did their best to hang around and keep the game within reach. The lineup of Ish Smith, Bradley Beal, Jordan McCrae, Davis Bertans, and Thomas Bryant seemed to have good ball movement in the middle of the second quarter. That was the lineup that closed out the Charlotte game so it was good to see Brooks going back to that. Bertans and Smith just seemed to be on the same page, setting each other up for a couple of pretty baskets. With this lineup out there, the Wizards went on a 14-5 run. Naturally, Brooks soon went away from it.
Also worth noting, Buddy Hield was the beneficiary of several calls that even Bradley Beal doesn’t get, especially on the road. On one particular play, C.J. Miles was called for a foul for obstructing Hield’s ability to land while shooting a three-pointer. This would prove to be an important foreshadowing of how this game would end.
I hate to pick on a specific player, but the Wizards had a 7-point lead with four minutes to play in the first half. Then Isaiah Thomas re-entered the game. The Kings went at him repeatedly, the Wizards ball movement stagnated, Bradley Beal deferred, and then before you knew it, the Kings were leading by 3 again. Thomas did hit an important 3 down the stretch to provide some timely offense. At halftime, the score was tied 57-57.
Before the start of the second half, Wizards assistant Corey Gaines talked about the need for pace-and-space and stringing together stops. He also mentioned Ish Smith specifically and how he has been instrumental in the second unit’s ability to push the tempo.
The second half started much the same way it ended, with Isaiah Thomas hitting an open 3-pointer and then being picked on defensively, allowing Cory Joseph to bully him for a mid-range jumper.
There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of flow when the starting unit is out there together. Brown and Hachimura are not credible threats from outside, so there is no spacing for Thomas or Beal to drive, and Bryant seems like he would be more comfortable occupying the same space that Hachimura does. Bryant was at his best last year cutting to the basket and finishing at the rim. It’s great that he can hit outside shots. But relying on that too much takes him away from what he does best.
Drew Gooden made a particularly timely observation (’bout time, amiright?) that Hachimura needs to stay on his feet on defense. He jumps to try to block shots and bites on pump fakes despite only having 1 block on the season. Gooden’s comments also proved prescient because they came seconds before Hachimura had one of his own shots blocked. It emphasized how he is going to have to adjust to the NBA game where he won’t always be more athletic than his opponent like he was in the West Coast Conference.
If the goal is truly to get better and make strides for next year, then it’s really good that the coaching staff is letting younger players like Brown and Hachimura play through the growing pains. If the goal is to win this year, then playing more experienced options like Bertans and McRae might yield better short-term results. I think tonight’s game exemplified how hard it is to try to accomplish both goals.
At the end of the third quarter, the Kings led 90-85. Beal was still oddly quiet, going 4-of-9 for 12 points. I realize full well that this isn’t the most reliable of metrics but it seems worth pointing out that in the “+/-“ category, Isaiah Thomas was a -13 and Ish Smith was a +8. Even though Thomas had some timely three-pointers, this seemed to support what the eye test showed.
The lineup to start the fourth was Ish Smith, Brad Beal, Jordan McRae, Davis Bertans and Moe Wagner. This group forced the Kings into some really tough shots but they were not able to capitalize offensively. After outstanding ball movement, Smith missed a wide-open 3 and then did not get a call when he clearly got bumped driving to the basket. Sensing a theme yet?
At the under-8 timeout, the Kings still lead 97-90. Bertans lined up a 3 but missed and was not able to land because his defender got under him, the same play that yielded Hield three free throws earlier in the game. That the Wizards could not get the benefit of the same calls that the road team did was another bad omen.
Down eight points with a little more than five minutes to play and in need of stops, Scott Brooks decided to go to his all-defense lineup of Smith, Thomas, Beal, Bertans, and Bryant. If you are not fluent: that was sarcasm. Remarkably, it actually kind of worked (albeit, only for a little while). Thomas hit another timely 3 with just over four minutes left in the game to cut the lead to three.
With 3:25 left in the game, Bradley Beal took a long shot as the shot-clock was expiring. Thomas Bryant basically caught Beal’s shot and laid it up to make it a 103-99 Kings lead. The play was deemed “under review” by the officials to see if it should have been either basket interference by Bryant or a shot-clock violation. For the time being, the basket was counted and play continued while the officiating crew back in New Jersey reviewed it.
The two teams traded baskets over the next minute of game-time until an Isaiah Thomas steal got the Wizards the ball back and a Thomas Bryant lay-up cut the lead to two with about two minutes to play. At the 1:56 mark in the game, it was announced that the earlier Bryant lay-up should have been a shot-clock violation and the Wizards would have two points deducted. The Kings immediately hit two free-throws after that and a 2-point game suddenly became a 6-point game in a matter of seconds. Whether or not that is the right call, allowing a valuable 2 minutes to run off the clock while the officials decide is unacceptable. That effectively killed the momentum the Wizards had built up.
Choosing not to let that deter them, the Wizards executed well on offense leading to a seemingly clean look from the 3-point line for Isaiah Thomas. As he shot the ball, Buddy Hield ran over and slapped Thomas on his shooting wrist. It was such an obvious foul that the ball failed to reach the rim. Yet, the officials said nothing. As Scott Brooks pointed out to them, this was the third time the officiating crew did not call something for the Wizards that they had already called for the Kings.
If the officials had done their job correctly, the Wizards would have had the chance to cut the lead to 107-104 with 1:40 left to play. Instead, they were down six and Bogdan Bogdanovich came down and hit a 3-pointer which effectively sealed the win for them.
I know that any number of plays can change the outcome of a game. If the Wizards had executed better throughout then this one play may not have mattered. But it’s really hard to win against a team that you are seemingly evenly matched with if they get the benefit of a friendly whistle while on the road.
Less than 30 seconds later, Beal slapped Bogdanovich’s wrist in almost the exact same fashion and this time the foul was called. Bogdanovich hit his free-throws to increase their lead to 112-104 with a minute to play. With the game pretty much decided, the Wizards cleared the bench. The final result was a 113-106 win for the Kings.
While the officials definitely had a bad game tonight, so did the Wizards. They were out of sync offensively, they still are not good defensively, they were sloppy with the ball on big possessions, they still do not have their ideal rotations figured out, Beal looked flat, and the ball just didn’t go in the hoop on looks when it typically would. Some nights you’re just not going to have it but these are the type of games good teams still find ways to win.
Put simply, the Wizards are not a good team. Not yet at least. They have the potential to be and they’ve certainly shown flashes. But that’s what this season is all about, learning these lessons this year so that in the future the same mistakes aren’t made.
On to the West Coast!