During the second half of the Wizards’ Game 2 loss at Toronto on Tuesday, cameras caught John Wall and Marcin Gortat engaging in an animated discussion on the bench at Air Canada Centre. Two seats to Gortat’s left, Bradley Beal sat slumped over with his elbows on his knees and his towel-covered face buried in his hands. The scene was a perfect microcosm of the first two games of this first round series, if not Washington’s entire maddeningly inconsistent season. It also resurfaced questions from outsiders about the team’s chemistry.
“It just seems like their chemistry is off,” Tracy McGrady said Wednesday on ESPN’s “The Jump” during a segment with co-hosts Rachel Nichols and former Wizard Paul Pierce. ” … They’re not clicking, and it’s showing on the basketball court. Look at Bradley Beal. He’s not even interested in what these guys next to him [are talking about].”
On Thursday, Wall, who exchanged subtle barbs with Gortat on social media earlier this season before insisting their relationship was solid, addressed his Game 2 conversation with The Polish Machine. He called Gortat his brother and said the Wizards would continue to stick together in the face of adversity, which is now a 2-0 deficit entering Friday’s Game 3 in D.C.
“I was just talking about our defensive coverage, that’s all it was,” Wall told reporters. “Just talking about something we wanted to do defensively. People that’s not in that huddle, or on the outside, are gonna think we’re arguing, having the biggest blowup. … Like I always tell people, they’re always going to have their own perception of what’s going on.”
Pierce, who spent the entire 2014-15 season in the huddle with Wall and Beal and helped Washington to a first-round sweep of the Raptors, has an idea of what’s wrong with this year’s Washington team.
“They’re lacking that veteran presence, such as myself, to get in the huddle and say look guys, this is what we have to do,” Pierce said Wednesday as video of Wall and Gortat’s Game 2 exchange played. “Now, I tried to breed them into that role. Now it’s up to John and Bradley to step up. Everything they’re doing is between their head. They’re frustrated with one another, they’re not playing well, and if they don’t get it together, they can’t be like this. You’ve gotta move on from mistakes. You can’t dwell on them like it seems like they’re doing here. You can’t show frustration on your face like Bradley’s showing there. These guys gotta buckle up, stand up, take a hit and go out there and play. They fought for a few minutes in the last game, but then they let Toronto push the lead back up. Who knows? Maybe they come back. The thing is, we’re doubting them, but Toronto did what they were supposed to do. Washington gets two more games at home, so we’ll see.”
Pierce downplayed the idea that Wall and Beal’s relationship is a problem. “They’re friends, but they get into it all the time,” he said. “These guys are good. They’re good with each other.” Still, Pierce suggested it might be time for Washington to break up its all-star backcourt if the team doesn’t rebound to make a deep run this postseason.
“Let’s just say these two do get past this series,” said Pierce, who predicts Washington will win the next two games at home. “For them not to break up, they would have to get to the conference finals. If they don’t get to the conference finals, I do believe that a major change has to happen. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out and you have to move on and maybe start all over or see what you can get for your talent.”
Pierce’s comments came after McGrady said Washington should trade one of its starting guards.
“I think changes have to happen,” McGrady said. “You look at how these guys responded when John was out of the lineup. You look at the things that were said in the media when John was out. I just think you have to move either John or Bradley Beal to get some assets back.”
Washington has given no indication that it intends to trade Wall or Beal. With Otto Porter Jr. also on a max contract and with Gortat and Ian Mahimi owed nearly $30 million next season, the Wizards don’t have much financial flexibility to upgrade the roster this offseason should they decide to stay the course with their current homegrown core.
For now, the Wizards will look to become just the 20th team in NBA history to come back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series. (Historically, teams with 2-0 leads have advanced 93.5 percent of the time.) In 2005, the Wizards lost the first two games of their first-round series against the Bulls in Chicago and then won four straight to advance. They almost pulled it off again in the second round last year, when they forced a Game 7 after losing the first two games in Boston.
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