Whenever he hits a shooting slump or has a forgettable performance, Bradley Beal likes to say that he gets “amnesia.” It’s an extreme word to express how he selectively blocks out those unfavorable moments that are bound to come through the course of a season.
Beal and the Wizards might have to take that same approach as it relates to the miserable four-game West Coast trip in which they faced three teams with losing records and claimed just one win.
“We got to forget about it, to be honest with you,” Beal said of the 1-3 road trip. “It’s frustrating. I felt like we let two of them go. It kind of hurts, but we’ve got to move forward.”
The Wizards (36-34) were one game up on the Brooklyn Nets for fifth place in the Eastern Conference when they departed for Sacramento. They returned home early Monday morning from Denver and now trail the Nets by 1½ games – and hold just a 2½-game lead on Charlotte – with just 12 games left.
“It’s crunch time right now and we’ve got to find a way to win,” Trevor Booker said of the trip. “We’ve got to find a way to win and to lose three out of four on the road, against teams that are not going to be in the playoffs, it’s something we got to deal with. We got to go back to the drawing board.”
An inability to move on from a crushing loss in Sacramento was actually part of the reason for the slide. Devastating defeats have contributed to some rough patches in the Wizards’ season and a 117-111 overtime loss to the Kings set an ominous tone. The Wizards fell behind by 13 early, rallied to take an 11-point fourth quarter lead and then blew a five-point lead with 24 seconds left in regulation.
“We feel like we could’ve came back 3-1 or even 4-0 but we let the first game slip away and I think that kind of stuck with us,” said John Wall, who missed two free throws that could’ve secured a victory in regulation, which allowed Kings forward Rudy Gay to tie the game with short baseline jumper.
The Wizards are 2-5 following overtime losses this season, with three of the losses by double digits. They blew a 10-point lead with roughly three-minutes left in the fourth quarter of an overtime loss to Oklahoma City on Nov. 10 and dropped the next three (beginning with a 10-point loss in Dallas). They lost in overtime to Milwaukee on Dec. 6 after blowing a five-point lead with 50 seconds left in regulation and again dropped next three, including another overtime, buzzer-beating loss on Dec. 13 in Atlanta (which was followed by a 16-point loss to the Clippers).
San Antonio stole a double-overtime game at Verizon Center on Feb. 5 after Washington led by 17 in the second half. The Wizards lost the next game to a struggling and banged up Cleveland team.
With an improved bench and a more veteran-laden roster, the Wizards appeared to move past wallowing. But mental toughness couldn’t fill in for a talent void after the loss in Sacramento and the Wizards were at a decided disadvantage in Portland after Marcin Gortat strained his already stiff lower back in pre-game warmups. The Trail Blazers were missing LaMarcus Aldridge but has found a way to win games by going smaller – something the Wizards haven’t done much with Gortat appearing in the first 67 games this season and Nene around for most of the others before his knee injury.
Washington lost, 116-103, to Portland but bounced back the next night against the free falling Los Angeles Lakers as Gortat made a surprising return. The Wizards built a 21-point lead but got careless with the ball and let the Lakers get back within seven to start the fourth quarter. They breakdowns forced Coach Randy Wittman to ride his beleaguered starters – and a now-valued reserve in Drew Gooden – during a critical fourth-quarter stretch to pull out a 117-107 win.
“We could’ve easily lost that game, too. We found a way to get at least one,” veteran Andre Miller said.
Had Wittman been able to utilize Chris Singleton, Otto Porter Jr. and Garrett Temple for more than just 52 seconds against the Lakers, the players he relies on most might’ve been more refreshed going into a high-altitude track meet in Denver two days later. Instead, the Wizards looked sluggish and mentally fatigued against the Nuggets, which contributed to them committing a season-high 24 turnovers in a 105-102 loss that spoiled Miller’s return to the place he called home from 2003-06 and 2011-14.
It was also the first time in six tries that the Wizards had failed to help a player get a win in their first road game against the team that cut them or traded them to Washington. Emeka Okafor, Nene, Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Gooden all got to experience some payback over the past two seasons.
“Got to bounce back,” Gooden said. “We have a lot of ball games left. Bounce back. Shows the nature of your team, and the maturity of your team, if you can put this behind yourself and come back and bounce back and put a string of wins together. Then we won’t even remember this again.”