I remember when I used to play 2k Association mode, my teams would be so deep into the luxury tax that I only had the minimum salary to offer. I’d always be able to find a few people to take the one year minimum, but sometimes I’d have so many slots to fill, that literally no one would sign with me. When that happens, the game automatically fills your roster by forcing unsuspecting free agents to sign a three-year minimum deal — so even if they were to prove their value, or if they could find more money playing overseas, they were locked in for the cheap. I always felt sorry for those players, even if they were just CGI figures that shot like this, because the game was, for three gameplay years (more like a couple weeks in real time), taking away their freedom, and I found that profoundly sad.
One of those players who was regularly forced to take those deals was Jakarr Sampson, who got his revenge on me last night by helping his Indiana Pacers defeat the Washington Wizards, 121-106. Sampson (14 Pts, 7-12 FG, 6 Reb, 2 Stl, 1 Blk), along with T.J. Warren (21 Pts, 9-15 FG), Aaron Holiday (18 Pts, 7-10 FG, 3-5 3PT), and Doug McDermott (19 Pts, 4-6 3PT, 7 Reb, 4 Ast) joined a long list of Wizard-killers on a night when neither Malcolm Brogdon (12 Pts, 3-14 FG) nor Domantas Sabonis (13 Pts, 4-11 FG, 6 fouls) could get into a rhythm offensively, and three of Indiana’s best players (Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Jeremy Lamb) sat out.
Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 30 points, managing to post good all-around numbers (5 Reb, 5 Ast), even when his three-pointer wouldn’t fall (1-12 3PT), and on a night where the offense around him was sloppy overall. C.J. Miles provided a spark off the bench again, scoring 15 points and making three of six three-point shots, and Thomas Bryant gave an efficient all-around effort (20 Pts, 6-10 FG, 1-2 3PT, 11 Reb). But, there was little offense to be found elsewhere. Davis Bertans shot well from three (3-6), but airballed on a shot at the top of the key and committed a flagrant foul during the fourth quarter when the game was still in reach. Neither Isaac Bonga nor Rui Hachimura, coming off an efficient 12 points in 16 minutes vs. Detroit, scored in a combined 30 floor minutes.
Even after allowing 70 points in the first half, a long scoring drought by Indiana from the end of the third quarter into the fourth allowed the Wizards to claw back into the game, at one point going on a 14-0 run and coming within ten points with 5:40 to go. But the Wizards’ inability to stay in control on offense, make the big shot, defend the three, or box out Sabonis (17 reb) proved to be their downfall. Even their 14-0 run was more fueled by Indiana’s shooting woes and filled with missed opportunities.
Down 11, the Wizards had an opportunity to cut the lead to single digits at the 11 minute mark in the fourth, but two missed threes by Beal and a loose ball foul on Bryant gave way to two Aaron Holiday threes, pushing the lead back to 17 less than two minutes later. Though we would come closer later in the quarter, that swing felt like the team’s last real chance to make the game truly competitive.
Moving forward, both Wizards point guards must be more efficient. Isaiah Thomas had a nice stroke from deep (2-4 3PT), but he committed 3 turnovers in 19 minutes and took a few bad shots in the lane. Ish Smith undoubtedly provided a spark to the offense with his speed, playmaking, and relentless motor (7 Ast, 5 Reb), and was just one of two Wizards (along with Miles) with a positive plus/minus on the night. However, he had a poor night shooting the ball (1-5 FG, 0-2 3PT), and often looked out of control running the offense.
Although the defense tightened up considerably in the second half, it felt like the corner three was open all night, and even on a night when Indiana — shooting the fewest threes per game in the NBA — was shorthanded some of their best scorers, they made 40% from deep. Against Cleveland — shooting the 12th most threes per game — on Friday, the Wizards will have to guard the three-point arc far better, even if the Cavaliers’ roster is undoubtedly weaker than this Pacers team.
But even with all this negativity, this team fights, and they seem to really like playing with each other. In an organization where this used to happen…
…that can’t get lost. My 36-win projection might look extremely rosy right now, but this is a long season, and an even longer journey to the promised land. The best days are still ahead.
The Wizards (2-5) come back home for a 7:00 PM tipoff with Cleveland (2-5) on Friday.