The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Wizards need to stop sharing the ball — with their opponents

Bradley Beal had an off night on the offensive end of the floor but it was turnovers that hurt the Wizards the most. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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Just as the ball has moved beautifully in the Washington Wizards’ half-court sets, blame for Wednesday night’s loss to Golden State could also be passed around. Turnovers often propelled the Warriors — consecutive early turnovers over a five-second span led to four points and the Wizards’ fifth lost possession of the opening quarter created a fast-break highlight between Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

As Wizards players reacted to the 109-101 loss, they lamented the sluggish start (8-of-23 shooting in the first), the hopeless third quarter in which they scored only 14 points, and the excessive fouling that sent Curry to the stripe for 12 free throw attempts. But Bradley Beal put the responsibility for the loss squarely on himself. His scoreless drought for 2 1/2 quarters (he finished with a 3-of-15 shooting total) certainly stained the box score, however Beal accepted blame for his five turnovers.

“I’ve had a lot of them. Just careless ones,” Beal said. “Just losing the ball, ball slipping.”

As the Wizards have garnered praise for their generous ball movement over the past month, all those assists have come with the occasional turnover-prone night. Since Jan. 27 when the team started its stretch without all-star point guard John Wall, Washington has led the league by averaging 29.9 assists per game — but have also committed 14.6 turnovers, which ranks as the eighth-highest mark.

The reasons behind the turnovers are varied. The “everybody eats” mentality may lead to moments of oversharing, but after the Warriors loss, a few players felt that several of the miscues happened when the team drifted away from its principles.

“We just got to take our time,” Otto Porter Jr. said. “We also just got to make sure we stay content in running our stuff, make sure we run it all the way through and just be more aware.”

In the first game following the all-star break, the Wizards turned the ball over only 10 times while completing the difficult task of beating the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road. They were almost as careful in Milwaukee on Tuesday night, in committing 11 turnovers in the win over the Bucks. But there have blemishes along the way: 14 versus the Charlotte Hornets (Feb. 23), 19 against the Philadelphia 76ers (Feb. 25) and 16 in the loss to the Warriors.

“Especially in that first half, it seems like every turnover led to a two-on-one or a one-on-zero,” Coach Scott Brooks said, while explaining how turnovers hurt the Wizards on Wednesday. “Unfortunately for us, that’s been sneaking up on us. For how well we have been playing and moving the basketball, we have been sharing it with other teams also and not just with ourselves. We have got to clean that up when you play against one of the best teams in basketball. Can’t have [16] turnovers and expect to win.”

Beal, who plays dual roles in creating for others while still leading the team in scoring, has six games with four turnovers or more since Wall has been out. On Wednesday, Beal’s third turnover — which he lost while still sitting on an 0-for-8 shooting mark — allowed Golden State’s Klay Thompson to hit a transition triple in the midst of a 9-2 run in the third quarter.

Plays such as that one make the Wizards cringe. While turnovers stagnate the offense, mistakes that directly lead to fast-break opportunities defeat the defense. Over the 14 games since Jan. 27, Wizards’ opponents are scoring 18.3 points off turnovers, the fourth-most in the league. The Warriors punched in 26 off Washington’s miscues — a bloated number when taking into account that the Wizards lost by only eight despite their scoring leader’s woeful night.

“Those definitely hurt, especially the live ball ones,” Beal said. “It’s different if it goes out of bounds, you can get your defense set. You’ve got [Durant] getting out on the break, guys getting out on the break, those are easy points for them. We were still able to move the ball, share it, knock down some shots but the turnovers hurt.

“I definitely put it on my shoulders for the loss,” Beal said, “but end of the day, we still could’ve won the game.”

Brooks earns coaching honor

In February, the Wizards posted an 8-4 record and won six of seven games on the road. The team, which started the month behind Miami Heat in the division and conference standings, vaulted to the top of the Southeast and fourth overall. And Washington accomplished all of this without all-star point guard John Wall, who is recovering from left knee surgery.

For these results, Scott Brooks was named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for games played in February. During the 12-game stretch, the Wizards collected wins over Toronto, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Indiana — teams currently in the playoff hunt.

This is Brooks’s second Coach of the Month honor since joining the Wizards. Last January, Brooks earned the award over all East coaches for leading the Wizards to a 12-4 record.