April 6, 2018 | Capital One Arena | Washington, D.C.
The Washington Wizards have been up and down all season, but after an embarrassing loss to the 22-57 Atlanta Hawks, I think they are close to imploding and staying down for the rest of the season. Without John Wall (precaution), Ian Mahinmi (concussion), and Markieff Morris (first quarter ejection), the Wizards lost to their division foe to endure their first four-game losing streak of the season after going most of the season without even suffering a three-game losing streak. At the hands of a rookie that they had brought in for a pre-draft workout, Tyler Dorsey, Washington saw him score a career-high 22 points on their way to yet another embarrassing and unacceptable loss.
(Photo: Ned Dishman via Getty Images)
Bradley Beal Does His Thing
Let’s get the lone positive out of the way. The Wizards would not even be in the playoffs if not for their All-Star shooting guard that has played in every game of the season and logging way too many minutes to keep the ship afloat without Wall. Beal had 32 points on 12-for-24 shooting in 40 minutes after playing 43 minutes the night before in Cleveland. It is the 53rd time this year that the Florida product has had a 20-point game and the 15th time this year that he has had a 30-point game. In his first three seasons combined, he only had 48 20-point games and in his first four seasons combined, he only had four 30-point games. In a night where everything else went wrong, Beal was right.
“Some of the plays he makes sometimes they’re just high level,” Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said about Beal. “He’s an All-Star and he’s been doing it for a few years now. Feel like we’ve played him a million times and he’s a heck of a talent.”
Aside from Beal, only two others had double-digit scoring. Kelly Oubre had 13 points and three three-pointers but shot a horrendous 3-for-13 from the field overall. Otto Porter had 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting. Wizards shooters excluding Beal were 23-for-63 (36.5 percent) from the field including 13 misses at or near the rim.
For the first time since January 22, the Wizards did not record 20 assists breaking a 32-game streak of doing so with the overwhelming majority of those games without Wall. The franchise record of 12-games with 25 assists in a row was snapped as the Wizards only managed 18 assists on 35 field goals. No offense to Marcin Gortat, but he should not be the leading assister on the team with four dimes. Washington did not have a quarter with more than six assists, which is as many as Wall had in the first quarter against Cleveland alone. The lack of ball movement was one of many things that pissed off Scott Brooks about the loss because it is elementary and basic logic that you are taught in grade school.
“Not passing the ball to one another, it’s as simple as that,” Brooks said
. “Nobody wanted to share the basketball tonight, and when you do that you end up taking bad shots. And when you take bad shots, you end up missing. It’s a simple game: you pass it to your teammate, you pass it because the game tells you to. You guys understand that as well as anybody by following the game. If you don’t pass to your teammates, you’re not going to end up getting good shots. One-on-one players, there aren’t many in this league, and we don’t have one on our team. … We shouldn’t be talking about the simple game of basketball. It’s the simple fundamentals of basketball. Pass the ball. It’s right there in front of you, you pass it to the same color jersey that you’re wearing and it’s easy. No matter who it is, you pass it.”
“The ball has been sticking,” Porter described. “We’ve got to do a better job of moving the ball. Looking for the extra pass, looking for the right pass. Saving the home run passes. Turnovers [are] putting us in a bad position … usually get a shot up, but it has to be a good shot. That’s what he means.”
“I don’t know,” Tomas Satoransky responded when asked what has changed since ‘Everybody Eats’. “I’m telling you, if I’d know, we would figure it out. Like you said, the ball just stopped moving. We are not cutting, we are waiting on what someone with the ball will do. That’s not the way, that’s not the way how we won the games, how we were playing for each other. It’s still a week before the playoffs. We have to do something and we have to do it quickly because this was real bad. It’s a bad image for the whole team.”
Despite Adam Silver’s best efforts, tanking is a real thing in the NBA, which makes sense because the Philadelphia 76ers are a case in point that it works to eventually get back into contention instead of floating around in league purgatory. Atlanta might have been on their way to 60 losses if not for beating Washington even though their two best players, Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore, were out. Taurean Prince and a bunch of guys named Joe beat the playoff bound Wizards. Six players were in double figures for the visiting team.
Consistent with their recent struggles, Washington could not guard the ball, could not keep their man in front of them on cuts to the basket, and did not rotate on defense when necessary. As bad as the offense was, the defense was not much better. For some time now, Brooks has said he will start benching players that are not giving him the proper defense and this will end up determining playoff rotations. Marcin Gortat could get his minutes significantly reduced as a result of declining play and small ball, while Kelly Oubre is in jeopardy of getting benched in key situations like last year’s Game 7.
“Defensively, we made the same mistakes,” Brooks explained
. “[We] get beat backdoor, we get beat offensive rebounds. We don’t help the helper. When you don’t do that, you hope that they miss, and you’re playing with fire. How we play when we’re at our best, we make them miss, and then we make the extra pass. It’s fun to coach, it’s fun to play and it’s fun to watch. Right now, we’re not doing any of the above. … We got to guard somebody. Our perimeter defense is porous.
It’s embarrassing when you get beat backdoors after backdoors. … I have to figure it out going into the playoffs who’s going to be able to not make mistakes as many times that we do.”
“We’ve just got to look at ourselves in the mirror,” Porter reiterated the team motto for the umpteenth time
. “What can I do to make the team better. Whether that’s rebounding [or] defending better. We have to do a way better job of defending one-on-one, taking pride in defense. I think that’s a big thing with us. We’re going to go back to the drawing board and watch film of these last four games. We’re going to come to a conclusion on what we need to do.”
“We are not aggressive like we used to be – without weak side, without communication, lot of lack of communication for the whole game,” Satoransky said. “It’s a little bit the same on offense. We don’t cut, we don’t pass, we are lacking some aggressiveness, the same like on defense. It was on both ends, obviously, so a very bad image.”
“You have to respect everyone who plays in the NBA,” Satoransky theorized a reason for Washington’s woes against sub-.500 teams. “Guys who did not play in the season for those teams, they are fighting, they are hustling. They want to have a place in this league. You have to respect that. It’s not like they want to lose. Everyone in the NBA is good and we have to respect that. I feel like we didn’t do that today and it’s really bad from all of us. We just have to blame all of us because it’s a team sport and we really have to do better.”
More Quotes To Underscore Frustration
For the third time in the last five home games, Beal did not talk to the media. Tonight’s early exit from the locker room came before the media even entered as Brooks took nearly 20 minutes after the conclusion of the game to begin his postgame press conference. Once is fine, he has a life outside of basketball and something may have come up, twice is a coincidence, but three times is a pattern. One thing that I find most admirable about Wall is that he owns talking to the media no matter the circumstance after every game he plays in. I do not blame Beal for not wanting to talk after another frustrating loss because he is tired of talking about the same “shit” over and over again as he put it recently. Tensions are broiling to an unsafe level for all involved, which is conveyed through all of the quotes presented in this story.
“He got frustrated he didn’t get the call,” Brooks began about Morris’ early ejection. “There are a handful of calls every game you don’t get. Not just him, everybody. You watch NBA games, a lot of guys don’t get the calls. You can’t frustrated enough to get thrown out of a game, especially when we’re shorthanded. We talked after; he apologized. He feels bad but we can’t put ourselves in that position. He knows that. He’s been in this league long enough and we cannot continue to put ourselves in those positions. We have to guard, and we have to pass and we got to be together, and we’re not doing that the last x number of games. Last night was terrific. We got beat by one of the best players ever to play the game but tonight that wasn’t the case.”
“It is definitely late in the season for this to be creeping up but it is,” Brooks said before outright calling out his team. “You got to call it like you see it. We’ve been talking about it, we haven’t been able to execute it. And I got to do a better job of make sure that we do and finding guys that are going to do that. Selfish basketball is no fun to coach, it’s no fun to play with and it’s no fun to watch. We’re a selfish basketball team right now. If we’re not going to share the basketball, you can’t just say ‘John’s not here’ and all of a sudden we’re going to be one-on-one players. John’s not here, John’s here, it doesn’t matter. We still got to play the right way. The game tells you to pass it to your open teammate. The game tells you to guard the ball. The game tells you to help your team, and we’re not doing that right now. It’s embarrassing.”
“What’s concerning is how we’ve played the last three or four games last week and how we’ve changed from how we played before,” Satoransky pinpointed. “Those are numbers are numbers, right, but the way we play, no one is happy about it, obviously. We are supposed to be playing great for the playoffs, improving in all things and now we are just struggling all over the floor. We have to really change it quickly.”
With the loss, Washington falls to 42-38 and the No. 8 seed, a half game behind Milwaukee who was idle on Friday at 42-37. No. 6 Miami lost to New York but remains a full game ahead of the Wizards at 43-37. The Heat will likely hold the tiebreaker over both the Bucks and Wizards as the Southeast division winner, but Washington (27-23) will likely hold the tiebreaker over Milwaukee (25-24) with a better conference record.
Miami will play at home against Oklahoma City and Toronto who may be resting with the No. 1 seed secured. Milwaukee plays at New York, at home against Orlando, and at Philadelphia. All three teams are probably aiming for the No. 7 seed to play against No. 2 Boston without Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart instead of No. 1 Toronto or the winner of No. 3 out of Philadelphia and Cleveland. What could have been, potentially a three-seed, if Washington simply took care of business against teams that are clearly inferior to them. Some can joke that the Wizards are tanking in order to secure the No. 7 seed, but the unfortunate truth is that they are playing some of their worst basketball at the worst possible time.
Next Game: Washington has two more games to end the regular season starting with Boston at home on Tuesday as the first leg of a back-to-back. Of course, that may end up being the first round matchup if the Wizards can finish as the No. 7 seed.