For the first three quarters of Wednesday’s game against Charlotte, both John Wall’s shooting struggles and the Southeast Division foe Bobcats appeared to be right where the Wizards wanted them — in their rearview mirror, yet close enough to keep Washington motivated.
By the midpoint of the fourth quarter, both were front and center and the Wizards were out of answers. Wall went scoreless for the final 12 minutes, and Washington unraveled in a flurry of turnovers and missed shots in a 98-85 loss before 17,220 at Verizon Center.
The Wizards failed to convert a field goal for a span of 3 minutes 55 seconds. Charlotte’s Al Jefferson, meanwhile, continued his recent tear with a game-high 26 points, sparking a decisive 16-2 run that sent Washington to its second straight loss and closed the Bobcats’ gap in the standings to 21 / 2 games. Adding to the sting: Brooklyn’s defeat of Miami on Wednesday meant the surging Nets took over the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference standings from the Wizards, who fell to 33-31.
“It’s disappointing because it was a winnable game and we’re in the same predicament [as Charlotte],” said Bradley Beal, whose free throw tied the game at 78 right before Charlotte’s run. “You have to tip your hat off to them because they played great and we didn’t.”
After scoring just 16 points combined in Washington’s previous two games, Wall had 12 in less than eight minutes against Charlotte (31-34). The all-star guard drained two three-pointers and scored four consecutive field goals to give Washington an early 17-12 lead.
While Wall returned to form, the first 12 minutes brought more of the same from Jefferson, who powered his way to 10 first-quarter points. Unlike the teams’ first meeting of the season, when Marcin Gortat frustrated the Bobcats center into a six-point performance, Jefferson’s interior success kept the Bobcats close and the Wizards rotating defenders for help.
The extra attention left space for Gerald Henderson to find his rhythm after missing the past five games with a calf injury. The swingman made his first four shots en route to 13 points, including a deep jumper from the corner that trimmed Washington’s lead to 42-40 midway through the second quarter.
Space in the paint and in transition proved hard to come by for the Wizards, who finished with just two fast-break points and nearly as many turnovers (14) as assists (16).
Washington rarely challenged Jefferson at the rim, drawing just two fouls on Charlotte in the first half and settling for three-pointers; the Wizards shot 9 for 25.
“I thought they were more aggressive than we were all night, on both ends of the floor,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “I thought we got to dribbling too much and holding the ball too much . . . You dribble eight or nine times against a good defensive team, they’re going to smother you.”
The Wizards turned up their defense to begin the third quarter, and Wall turned the forced turnovers into more points, splashing a three from the top of the key before hitting a pull-up jumper to punctuate a 10-0 run that put them up 59-53.
The game remained tight into the fourth with the teams trading baskets. Beal, who finished with 18 points on 7-for-18 shooting, tied it with one of two free throws with less than seven minutes to play. But the Wizards would score just three more field goals the rest of the way as Charlotte grabbed control behind Jefferson and Kemba Walker (16 points).
The decisive moment during the stretch came with the shot clock ticking down and Walker trapped in the corner. The cat-quick guard drew a foul on Wall while shooting a three. The foul drew the ire of both Wall and Wittman, who was whistled for a technical foul as Walker made the first two of his three free throws. Walker completed his three-point play from the line, then made a fourth for the technical as part of the crucial run that sealed Washington’s second straight loss to a division rival.
“They did a good job defensively,” Wall said. “We’ve just got to do a better job on the defensive end when we’re not capable of knocking down shots like we usually do.”