Tuesday’s 126-113 loss to the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks was a night for experimentation for the Wizards (24-47).
With their season coming to an end Thursday after a noon game against the Boston Celtics and nothing to gain but more experience for his young team, Coach Scott Brooks sat Ish Smith, started Troy Brown Jr at point guard and gave Jerome Robinson his first start in the Kissimmee, Fla., bubble. Despite the new-look lineup, Hachimura’s why-not attitude and the Bucks playing without their reigning league MVP for much of the game, Washington couldn’t corral Milwaukee’s many weapons and logged its seventh straight loss.
The Bucks (56-16) were without starters Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Wesley Matthews and backup Donte DiVincenzo — all sidelined with a litany of bumps and bruises — but the biggest absence of the night was unplanned. Giannis Antetokounmpo was ejected for head-butting Moe Wagner in the second quarter after a physical sequence culminated with Wagner taking a charge. During an ensuing break in play, Antetokounmpo — who was apparently feeling better after recent oral surgery — walked up to Wagner and gave him a forceful nudge, forehead to temple.
The reigning MVP hopeful exited with 12 points and nine rebounds in 10 minutes.
“Giannis brings the juice, Moe brings the juice,” Smith said. “It’s basketball, it is what it is. Neither one of them — they love their money. I don’t think either one of them was going to throw any hands. A little rah-rah, back-and-forth.”
"That was a strange few seconds," Brooks said, predicting Antetokounmpo may be suspended for a few games as a result.
Wagner did not speak to the media after the game.
The head butt was certainly the oddest moment of the late-night game, but one of the brightest for the Wizards was the freedom with which Hachimura shot the basketball. The forward led the team with 20 points on 6-for-18 shooting, making 3 of 9 from beyond the arc. His previous career-high three-point attempts was five, but Milwaukee gave him open look after open look Tuesday.
Smith backed Hachimura with 19 points off the bench. Robinson, continuing his pattern of high-scoring games, added 15 points and dished a team-high seven assists.
“I’ve been practicing those shots, especially during quarantine time. ... I got more confident, and tonight I had more opportunities,” Hachimura said. "First I was hesitating, but my teammates told me to keep shooting. I just kept shooting. For me, I have to make those shots next year, you know, after John comes back, Brad comes back, and there are going to be a lot of open looks like that.
Washington never led after a plodding start gave way to the eventful second quarter. Even without the MVP on court, the Wizards weren’t tight or quick enough on defense to stop Milwaukee and couldn’t keep up on offense. They shot 41 percent from the field.
In Brown's debut as point guard, he scored nine points and had three assists but wasn't able to facilitate as he has been working off-ball in the bubble. Brooks couldn't fault the 21-year-old in his first try.
Brook Lopez led the Bucks with 24 points and Sterling Brown had 23 off the bench.
“We had a chance to cut it to 10 a few times, and we just could not make the timely three,” Brooks said. “It seemed like every time we could not make it they came down and hit a timely three. But that’s the way it’s going.”
On Wednesday, the Wizards will have their final practice before their final game of the season Thursday, shortly after which they will depart the NBA’s bubble. Brooks said the last practice will be for getting a few shots up, game planning for Boston and cleaning up a few nit picks from Tuesday’s loss.
After that, Washington must pack up before getting one last chance to notch a win in the bubble.
“We haven’t been rewarded with wins, but we have been rewarded with a lot of great experiences, not only on the basketball court but a lot of the individual, a lot of team growth off the court,” Brooks said. “We’ve had a good time getting to know one another, bond with one another ... we still want to get something accomplished. We still want to be prepared for the Boston game.”