The Wizards’ miniscule playoff hopes – unrealistic as they seemed after starting the season 0-12 – came to an end on Wednesday, when they were officially eliminated from postseason contention with an 88-78 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
If a second half in which they missed four out of every five shots, scored a measly 28 points and blew an 11-point lead wasn’t upsetting enough, the Wizards have to be a tad more infuriated that with they’d still be mathematically alive with a win because Milwaukee, which currently has the eight-best record in the Eastern Conference, lost at home to Minnesota.
Even still, the Wizards still took some pride in lasting until the final month of the regular season before booking those hotel rooms in New York for their annual trip to the NBA draft lottery.
“We could’ve packed it in a long time ago, but we continued to fight,” reserve point guard A.J. Price said. “We continued to play, and really took it one game at time, to try to get better. Officially, it’s over, but it says a lot to still be in it until now.”
The Wizards opened the season without John Wall and will now finish without promising rookie Bradley Beal, who was shut down for the remainder of the season a few hours before the loss with a stress injury in his right fibula. They have grown accustomed to playing shorthanded for most of the season and didn’t appear to be affected in the first half, as they jumped on the Raptors and used a 14-0 second-quarter run to take a seemingly commanding, 15-point lead. But for whatever reason, that team that led 50-39 at halftime didn’t show up in the third quarter.
“The team that came out in the second half needed to stay in the locker room,” Emeka Okafor said. “Just didn’t come out with the same fire. They jumped on us pretty quick, couldn’t catch up.”
The Raptors throttled the Wizards in the third quarter, holding them without a field goal for nearly six minutes, and clawing back by drawing fouls and making free throws. Toronto got 13 points from the foul line and limited the Wizards to just 12. The constant stoppage in play, kept the Wizards from getting rebounds and getting out on the break, and the offense was just stagnant.
“We did not come out with any focus,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “That is where this group has to, on the road, put a team away. All that work in the 24 minutes that you did is gone in three minutes. We stopped moving the ball. Everything was one pass. There was too much dribbling. I don’t know why. There was no pace to the game. We had no movement, which was disappointing. To be up 11 at halftime and then go through the motions in those first three minutes let them back in it. We need that killer instinct, and we have not shown it.”
Wittman then rolled up his stat sheet and walked away.
The Wizards failed to score at least 80 points for the 10th time this season – and just the third time since Wall made his debut. It was probably not a coincidence that those previous low-scoring affairs against Memphis and Brooklyn were on the road with Beal out because of injury.
Beal’s presence was certainly missed, especially after he drilled six three-pointers against the Raptors in the Wizards’ 109-92 win on Sunday at Verizon Center. The Wizards were 5-19 from long distance as a team on Wednesday, with Trevor Ariza having the luckiest shot of the night. Scrambling to track down a loose ball before it went out of bounds, Ariza noticed that the shot was winding down, whirled and tossed up a shot from 30 feet that dropped.
“Nothing else went in. Sometimes it’s just like that,” Ariza said. “We couldn’t hit anything and we didn’t get any easy baskets. It’s tough to win when you don’t get easy buckets.”
Another factor that cannot be overlooked is how the Wizards continue to get up for teams with better records while getting down against teams with inferior records. The Raptors had a better record than Washington on Sunday and the Wizards won. The Wizards had a better than Toronto on Wednesday and they lost. Both teams are now tied for 10th place in the East.
“That’s something that we need to come back next year and try to rectify as a team,” Price said. “Not play to the level of our competition every night, just play the way we know we’re capable of playing, regardless, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Wall scored a team-high 20 points but was disappointed that the Wizards continue to struggle away from Verizon Center. They are 7-30 on the road, which is the third-worst record in the league. “I feel like, at home, we’re a great team. That’s how you have to be, take advantage of home court. But we’re below average, sometimes average, but most of the time below average on the road,” Wall said. “We are two totally different teams right now.”
And both will be headed to the lottery for the fifth year in a row.
“Even at 4-28, we were never really out of it, because anything could happen,” Okafor said. “We kept that mentality and kept on playing. As a competitor, you want a chance to get a ring, so not making it to the playoffs is always disappointing.”