There were two things Scott Brooks tried Sunday afternoon in Charlotte to give his Washington Wizards a better shot at a good start. The coach swapped out center Robin Lopez for Alex Len in the starting lineup to give the team a different look, and he held a separate film session Saturday with just Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura, the team’s lottery picks from the past two years.
Brooks wanted to drill into the minds of the franchise’s developing young players the importance of maintaining intense focus and effort for all 48 minutes of a game.
But no amount of lineup shuffling or personal tutoring sessions could solve Washington’s issues Sunday. The Wizards lost, 119-97, to the Hornets after falling into yet another first-half hole — they have felt more like chasms lately — this one a 21-point deficit.
Charlotte controlled the court inside and out, looking so at home on the three-point line it might have purchased real estate, and dominating the boards as Len flailed in his first start with the Wizards. The Hornets notched a season-high 59 rebounds to the Wizards’ 48, and in the aftermath Brooks, Bradley Beal and backup point guard Ish Smith all said Washington needs to step up and take personal pride in playing defense.
With that absent, Brooks searched for some other answer all game, exhausting his timeouts before the end of the third quarter. Nothing stuck, and the Wizards fell to 5-15.
“At times bad, at times good. It was really inconsistent,” Brooks said of the team’s energy Sunday. “And we have to be in — and we have to be on — at all times. . . . That’s the one thing that has to be a constant, and it was up and down tonight. It has to get better. We’ve still got a chance to finish up this [four-game] road trip in the right way, and we could split the trip, but we’ve got to be better. I’ve got to do better. But we’ve got to also take pride in that individual defense that teams are attacking. Teams are attacking individual players, and we’ve got to step up and take the challenge and make them miss shots and not get beat by one or two dribble-drives.”
Beal, at least, bounced back from a rare off night Friday in Miami to lead all scorers with 31 points on 11-for-22 shooting from the field, as was expected from the NBA’s leading scorer.
As usual, his successful outing had little to do with the rest of his team’s game.
In an afternoon bout scheduled to make up for a game postponed in January because of the Wizards’ coronavirus outbreak, Washington finished the first quarter on a 14-5 run, but by then Charlotte (11-13) had settled in and still led 34-31. The Hornets led 69-52 at halftime and were shooting 42 percent from three-point range. LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier and Miles Bridges began grinning and trading laughs on the sidelines and at the free throw line midway through the second quarter, comfortable and unburdened.
The Wizards simply looked flat.
“Those guys are athletes. [I saw] Miles Bridges one time throw the ball off the glass, missed it on purpose and went to go get his own rebound,” Smith said after the game. “He’s a great athlete ... and no offense to him, you’ve got to go in and hit him. We have to do it as a collective team. We all have to go in and rebound and take an offensive foul. Take a defensive foul. Just box out. That’s something that you’ve got to do from the beginning because if you can get stops and run, that’s the way we want to play.”
Lopez added 14 points and five rebounds to Beal’s effort, and starting point guard Russell Westbrook had 12 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. Washington’s offense was meager throughout the game without solid defense to get it going: The Wizards shot 38 percent from the field and 23 percent (9 for 40) from beyond the arc as familiar problems cropped up again.
Sharpshooter Davis Bertans has yet to regain his form and shot 2 for 7 from three-point range for six points in 19 minutes. Len had two points and one rebound in eight minutes going up against Hornets center Cody Zeller, who had 13 points in the first quarter alone and finished with 16.
Rozier led six Charlotte scorers in double figures with 26 points, taking advantage of the choice shots, including five three-pointers, that Washington allowed him all game. Gordon Hayward was just behind him with 25 points.
The Wizards now turn to face the Chicago Bulls on Monday, when they will end their road trip. Asked where the team goes from Sunday’s loss, Beal had no better answer than to point to the calendar.
“I don’t want to sound like a smart ass, but we go to Chicago,” Beal said. “We just go to Chicago. ... Got to have some pride, man. Some dog. We’re kind of just letting teams walk over us, and that s--- is frustrating.”