Wizards struggle with inconsistent play against Knicks

Bradley Beal scores a team-high 21 points in the loss to the Knicks. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

Bradley Beal scores a team-high 21 points in the loss to the Knicks. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

With New York Knicks guards Tim Hardaway Jr. and Pablo Prigioni crowding Bradley Beal, the Wizards guard tried to split a double team but stumbled, lost his dribble off Hardaway’s foot and the ball skidded directly to Trevor Booker. Hardaway and Prigioni then tried to trap Booker but he stunningly dribbled the ball behind his back to move into open space and flipped a pass to Beal in the corner for a three-pointer.

“That’s what I do. I’m a point guard at heart,” Booker said with a grin. “I used to play point guard back in junior high, though. I saw a opportunity to show off my skill and get my assist on.”

Booker’s unexpected playmaking display completed a 16-4 run to start the third quarter and give the Wizards their first lead of the second half. But the Wizards sunk into another offensive lull and went on to lose, 98-89, to the Knicks at Baltimore Arena.

“Too inconsistent,” Coach Randy Wittman lamented after the game. “I thought we came out the start of the game, moved the ball. We had eight quick assists. We’re our own worst enemy right now in terms of understanding that’s how we’ve got to play. All of a sudden, the ball stopped. Stuck in hands. No movement. Turnovers.”

The Wizards played their first game in Baltimore, exhibition or regular season, in nearly 14 years. But it hardly felt like a home game for the Wizards with most of the fans dressed in orange and blue and pulling for the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony returned to the city where he grew up to score a game-high 22 points and was overcome with emotion after playing his first NBA game in Baltimore. “It was a great feeling,” Anthony said. “Just being able to come back and have that connection, have that feeling once again, with the community and the fans. I was once one of them kids that grew up here, so I can relate on a very different level.”

While Anthony relished his return, the Wizards welcomed back Nene, but the Brazilian big man was unable play after dealing with a family matter back home and arriving earlier in the day.

Wittman went with Kevin Seraphin and Booker as his starting big men for the second straight game.

Booker had his best game of the preseason with seven points, nine rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot in 24 minutes and said afterward that he is beginning to regain his rhythm.

“I felt pretty good,” Booker said. “I’m getting my wind back. I’m playing at a high level. I’m feeling pretty good.”

Seraphin had 11 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and two assists, but Wittman believes that he has long way to go toward showing improvement as a passer out of double teams. Wittman complained that Seraphin is too content throwing cross-court passes — a definite no-no in his book.

“You watched the same game I did. He’s got to learn to make the simple play,” Wittman said. “He does it every day in practice, a drill we do every day, where’s his spots to look, but once he gets going, he wants to throw that thing across the court and that’s going to be a steal. But hey, it’s a process.”

Beal scored at least 20 points for the second straight game, pitching in a team-high 21 points. The Wizards only shot 5 of 31 from beyond the three-point line, but Beal was responsible for three of the makes.

And Beal’s improved ball-handling was once again on display as he made a wicked spin move to get around Knicks guard Iman Shumpert for a left-handed layup. Beal moved so swiftly that Shumpert sprained his right elbow reaching in to swipe away at the ball. But Beal was also the only starter not to have any assists.

John Wall was in more control running the team against the Knicks as he led the Wizards with eight assists and didn’t have any turnovers. He pushed the tempo, kept the Knicks on their heels with blazing dashes to the basket and had several hockey assists, encouraging better ball movement with the open looks generated from his penetration.

“We just have to keep moving the ball,” Wall said,  “especially like we did against the Heat the other night. We moved the ball the whole game. We were able to keep a lead, even though they got the lead a certain time. That’s the main thing with us, just being able to move the ball. We know we’re not a team that has one person like Melo that’s going to go [isolation] or do one-on-one things throughout the whole game. We just have to keep the trust with each other and make shots.”

The Wizards, though, had trouble with the second unit, which was unable to sustain what the starters had put together. Aside from Martell Webster, who had 13 points on just six shots, the rest of the bench combined to score just 17 points on 7-of-27 (26 percent) shooting.

“Our bench has got to play better. Our bench has got to play better,” Wittman said.

Beal isn’t overly concerned about the Wizards’ struggles through the preseason. “We’ll be fine. There’s 82 games, it’s a long year,” he said. “We’re doing fine right now. We’ll get the flow of it.  Sometimes we’re out of sync, and we’re still getting a feel for each other, so to speak. We’re playing against other teams. The concepts are different, but as soon as the season gets rolling, I think we will be fine.”

With a new playmaker on the team in Booker, Beal has reason to be encouraged. “You couldn’t do nothing but laugh afterward,” Beal said. “Then he comes to the bench, like, ‘Did you see my handles?’ He made a good play … and he’s happy.”

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