MINNEAPOLIS — Bradley Beal banged left knees with Minnesota Timberwolves forward Luc Mbah a Moute, spun around and dropped on his back side. He tried to stand but collapsed again. Gasping and grimacing as he looked down, with his hands and knees on the hardwood, Beal kept pushing, telling himself to get up from the floor and walk over to the Washington Wizards’ bench. Until he finally relented.
“I really couldn’t get up,” Beal said. “I just fell because it was no way I could possibly move after that.”
The Wizards were well on their way to a humiliating 120-98 loss to the Timberwolves when Beal caused a panic amongst his teammates and fans with 4 minutes 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Martell Webster had just hit a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within 21 points. He turned and walked away but quickly was running back to check on Beal, who didn’t leave the floor until teammates Trevor Ariza and Jan Vesely lifted him on their shoulders and carried him to the locker room.
After having a precautionary X-ray, Beal moved down the hallway with the assistance of crutches but left the arena on his volition, limping and holding back his emotion. Beal will have an MRI exam Saturday in Washington but was encouraged about his outlook.
“The X-ray was pretty positive,” Beal said before smiling to catch himself. “It was negative. My bad. It was negative. That’s a good thing. I was hoping it wasn’t anything too, too serious or too crazy. Hopefully, I’ll be good moving forward.”
The Wizards (12-14) thought that the worst part of the evening would be getting pummeled and beaten down by a rugged Timberwolves team that handed them their most lopsided loss of the season. But now they will have to sweat the health of Beal and don’t want to be without the promising second-year guard for another extended period. Beal already missed nine games because of a stress injury in his right fibula and played the past four games with a minutes restriction.
“I pray for a speedy recovery,” Webster said after scoring 11 points off the bench. “I prayed with him, and I hope everything is okay with him. He looked a little banged up. That kid’s a warrior, and he’s going to bounce back, and he’s going work as hard as he can to make sure that he can be a leader on this team.”
Beal had just 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting Friday and couldn’t spare the Wizards from embarrassment, even when he was on the floor. Instituting what Webster referred to as “bully ball,” the Timberwolves pounded the Wizards inside, abused them on the offensive glass and dominated them in nearly every hustle category. Minnesota had 48 points in the paint, attempted 38 free throws and outscored the Wizards 10-0 in second-chance points in the first half.
“Defensively, that’s as bad as we played since the start of the year,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We came out, did none of our concepts of how we want to play defense. It was back to where the season first started, didn’t even want to play defense. It was a sieve to the basket. They were tougher than we were. They pushed us around. We had resistance. We had to put this game behind us, but we’ve got to learn from it.”
The Wizards hadn’t played since Dec. 21 and could have used the long layoff as an excuse if the Timberwolves weren’t also coming off a long break between games. They could also lament minute restrictions for Nene and Beal if they hadn’t exploited those limitations to their advantage in three straight road wins over New York, Brooklyn and Boston.
The Wizards simply didn’t have an alibi for coming up flat and losing at Target Center for the fourth straight time. The break interrupted one of the better stretches this season for the Wizards, who are 0-4 this season when they have at least three days of rest.
“That’s not an excuse for us,” John Wall said of the long layoff. “They basically got whatever they wanted, did whatever they wanted all night. We didn’t play no defense.”
Wall scored a game-high 26 points, but he appeared to be playing by himself for much of the first half while the rest of his teammates decided to arrive when the game had already gotten out of reach. Wall only had four points in the second half.
Ariza picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and was out of rhythm for the rest of the game. He finished with 10 points, all in the second half. In addition to failing to keep Nikola Pekovic off the boards, Marcin Gortat was held scoreless in the first half and finished with just eight points. Trevor Booker had 10 points and nine rebounds. Nene had 13 points off the bench, but in a play that summed up the entire night, he mistakenly tapped in a shot for the Timberwolves while battling with Webster for a rebound.
“They had more energy than us. They prepare themselves better than us. They rebound better than us,” Nene said while attributing some of the sluggish play to the break. “That broke our momentum a little bit. When you have a couple days off, you know it’s necessary, but everybody come back slow a little bit with the feel of the game. But we have another game, so better we step it up good” against Detroit on Saturday.
That will be a tougher challenge if the Wizards don’t have Beal.