Bradley Beal said Friday that his team’s ability to close out a tight win in overtime against New Orleans showed improvement from a squad that has squandered late leads often. The matchup with Detroit offered the opportunity to showcase a different kind of growth.
Even after losing two starters to injury during the game, Washington was up to the task in a commanding 121-100 win.
Center Alex Len and forward Rui Hachimura left for the locker room before the fourth quarter began, minor threats to the key to the Wizards’ recent streak of four straight wins and six victories in their past seven games: a fully healthy roster. Coach Scott Brooks offered no updates on their status after the game.
Len headed to the locker room in the first half and did not play in the second because of right ankle soreness. Hachimura exited midway through the third quarter with left knee soreness that Brooks thought came from a collision with a Pistons player.
But even after they left, Washington (23-33) never wobbled. It turned a slim but assertive halftime lead into a 17-point gap in the third quarter after — finally — hitting some three-pointers. The Wizards cranked that up to a 24-point spread in the fourth as Detroit (17-40) gasped for air.
“We knew that we just wanted to keep putting pressure on them and rebound the ball and get out in transition and find some easy looks. Brad came out and gave us a lot of good looks. And then Russell [Westbrook], he came back to playing good basketball and he got a triple-double again tonight,” Brooks said, jokingly referencing Westbrook’s 36 point, 15-rebound, nine-assist performance Friday. “But [Robin Lopez] also — you can never underestimate what he brings to us. It’s like old-school, ’80s basketball, but it works.”
Beal led the way with 37 points on 13-for-22 shooting, including 4 for 6 from three-point range. Westbrook (15 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists) stomped on toward history with his 25th triple-double to give him a fourth season with at least 25, the most ever in the NBA, according to ESPN Stats & Info. He has 171 career triple-doubles, 10 short of Oscar Robertson’s record.
Backup point guard Ish Smith added 16 points in his most productive game since he returned from a quadriceps injury at the beginning of the month, and backup center Lopez had 15, and that was more than enough to handle the Pistons. Isaiah Stewart and Frank Jackson had 19 points apiece for Detroit.
Washington led 61-55 after a first half that could have been more decisive if not for the Wizards’ wayward three-point shooting. Still without three-point specialist Davis Bertans, who missed his second game in a row after his wife, Anna, gave birth to a baby boy, Washington made 1 of 5 attempts from deep in the first half as the Pistons shot 4 for 12.
Defense was scant on both sides, and Beal took advantage. He had 19 first-half points while maneuvering to the rim with little resistance. Westbrook directed traffic, assisting on 10 of the Wizards’ 25 field goals in the opening 24 minutes.
Adding to the offense: Lopez’s 11 points, gathered primarily with the 7-footer’s seemingly un-guardable hook shot; eight points from Smith; and eight from Len. It was apparent that Washington had control of the game despite the relatively close score. And this time, the Wizards never relented.
“It’s definitely growth,” Beal said. “A lot of it’s on the defensive end, just accepting challenges, being more in unison and obviously clicking. There were a lot of new faces at the beginning of the year, lot of adjustments we had to make, adding guys on the fly, guys being hurt, covid and all that. We have probably a lot of excuses. But we’ve had another streak. We won seven out of eight, we’ve done [six of seven] now, so we’re showing that we can put it together.
“It’s just having healthy guys and playing hard. ... We’re figuring everything out. We’re growing as the year’s gone on.”
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