Nene’s velvet sport coats are once again on full display at the end of the bench, revealing the Brazilian big man’s keen fashion sense and exposing a glaring problem for the Washington Wizards; a problem that even the emergence of Bradley Beal and the presence of a more assertive John Wall were unable to mask during a 96-88 loss on Friday night against the New York Knicks.
For all of the success that the team has had in recent weeks, the relative good health of its core players had been the least discussed, but most important, element. The Wizards have always had a razor-thin margin for error. They lost 28 of 33 games with Wall sidelined, and many of those early defeats also came without Nene and Wall’s backup, A.J. Price. Both were sidelined Friday before a full house at Verizon Center.
“Thirty teams in this league, you take away one of their two best players out of the lineup and you're going to miss them,” Coach Randy Wittman said of Nene. “High basketball IQ, the ability to score in the post, the ability to pass out of the post, his ability to defend a couple different positions. A lot of those things just in a game like this, you miss it. Our guys came in and tried to step up with an opportunity with he out and A.J. out. We battled . . . I don't have a complaint with that.”
Nene’s absence for the second straight game with a sore right shoulder left Emeka Okafor without a familiar ally on the defensive end, and Price sitting out with a right thigh contusion placed more pressure on Wall, who played a season-high 42 minutes.
With more time on the floor, Wall didn’t completely break out of slump that threatened to disrupt the progress the team has made of late, but he did play with more passion. Wall finished with 16 points and six assists, but he also had five turnovers, with two coming in the fourth quarter of a game that saw the Wizards go without a field goal the final four minutes.
“I feel like I lost the game in the fourth quarter, with the turnovers and in transition,” said Wall, who also picked up a technical foul in the fourth quarter after arguing a goaltending call on what he believed to be a clean block on Jason Kidd. “Sometimes the call goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. I put the game on my hands.”
Beal lost out on winning his third consecutive Eastern Conference rookie of the month award, with the NBA electing to go with Dion Waiters from Cleveland, but he got off to a good start toward regaining the honor in March. Continuing his run of quality play since returning from a sprained right wrist that cost him the last meeting, Beal led the Wizards with a season-high 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to finish with his third double-double.
“I was in the zone and I was just trying to do whatever it took to get the team rolling,” said Beal, who also made four three pointers to set a franchise record for three-pointers in a season by a rookie with 79. “I just tried to give us some kind of boost of energy and enthusiasm, trying to make big plays.”
Beal made a three-pointer from the right corner to bring the Wizards within 87-86 with 4 minutes 3 seconds remaining, but Wall committed a turnover on their next possession, Knicks center Tyson Chandler made two free throws and all-star forward Carmelo Anthony later made a three-pointer that secured the victory.
With Nene and Price out,
Wittman decided to go with Chris Singleton in the starting lineup, believing that he would match up better against Anthony than Trevor Booker, who got the nod in the previous game against Detroit. But aside from helping to limit Anthony to a poor shooting performance in the first quarter, Singleton had little influence on the outcome as Wittman relied more on Trevor Ariza down the stretch.
Ariza scored 15 points and was able to slow down Anthony some, but certainly couldn’t contain him as he scored a game-high 30 points to give the Knicks a 2-1 lead in the season series.
“Some players, you can’t do nothing with them, especially when they get it going,” Ariza said of Anthony.
The Wizards (18-39) lost at home for the second straight game and the third time since the all-star break. They didn’t help themselves by missing 10 free throws and committing five turnovers in the fourth quarter.
“Got a little sloppy at the end, but we fought hard,” Okafor said after recording his 15th double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. “We have a very small margin of error, but we had it. I missed five [free throws] myself. A couple of easy buckets there at the end. That’s a couple of easy points that we needed. But I can’t really complain about our effort. Just fell short.”