After practice this week, a day before the Washington Wizards’ gutting 119-118 loss to the Brooklyn Nets at Capital One Arena, Bradley Beal spoke about his team’s “good problems.”
That Washington (23-22) can deploy so many differently flavored lineups is a beautiful thing, Beal said, even as every player but Beal understands he is now competing for minutes.
Less beautiful is that more than halfway through the season, the Wizards’ newfound talent abundance hasn’t helped their quest for consistency.
A game after the Wizards’ offense clicked along without hitch and the defense was tuned into Philadelphia’s many threats (aside from Joel Embiid), their defense lagged in the first half and they let the Nets (28-16) roll.
Acting head coach Joseph Blair said he was pleased with his team’s overall performance against the Nets — just its second this season with the full roster — even as he singled out its downfall.
“I wanted to take a step ahead from last game. I can’t say we took a step ahead, but I don’t think we took a step back. For that I’m happy,” Blair said.
He was then asked about the Wizards’ search for consistency. “ … The consistency that I would like to see is the effort, that’s what I would like to see. … We’re not going to play perfect, but our effort can be perfect,” he said.
LaMarcus Aldridge (27 points), Patty Mills (17 points) and Day’Ron Sharpe (14 points) stepped up to fill in for Kevin Durant, who is out with a medial collateral ligament sprain. Kyrie Irving, who is unvaccinated but permitted to play at the city’s discretion despite D.C.'s vaccine mandate, led the team with 30 points. James Harden had 18 points, eight rebounds and nine assists.
Washington dug itself a 16-point deficit but fought back with a late defensive push. In the closing moments, a three-pointer from Kyle Kuzma and a block from Montrezl Harrell gave the Wizards a real chance for a win — a final trip with just under 10 seconds remaining and a one-point margin. But Kuzma missed a three-pointer, and Spencer Dinwiddie’s desperation heave was off the mark to end it.
The furious rally masked how comfortable the Nets were during a 74-point first half and highlighted how successful Washington can be when it is organized and focused. Brooklyn shot 52.8 percent from the field.
“We beat ourselves in the first half,” Kuzma said. “Point blank, period, you can’t let somebody score 74 points in a half. That’s tough to recover. We did a hell of a job in the second half defensively … that’s damn good plus for us, especially how we’ve been so up and down defensively. You talk about consistency you’re trying to find — we’re still playing a bunch of guys, too.”
Beal had 23 points and nine assists and Kuzma had 16. Harrell and Rui Hachimura added 14 apiece.
Here’s what else to know from Wednesday’s game:
Momentum shifted with just over five minutes left in the game after it looked as though a Nets assistant coach deflected a pass that led to a steal. The refs missed the apparent interference.
“My reaction was utter disbelief,” Blair said. “I’ve never seen in my very long time in basketball something like that that the referees did not see. … It’s very hard to swallow them missing something like that, for me.”
In pool report interview, crew chief Ben Taylor said the officials on the floor did not see any deflection on the play. There is no mechanism in place for that play to be reviewed.
Hachimura’s best game yet
Hachimura went 5 for 9 from the field, hit a pair of three-pointers and collected five rebounds. The forward was by far the most aggressive he’s been in the six games he’s played this season in attacking the paint. His finish at the rim also looked sharper.
Holiday and Neto sit
Backup guard Aaron Holiday was back to the bench after seeing garbage time against Philadelphia. Guard Raul Neto joined him this time as neither guard played at all while Washington continues to sort out its rotations.
Davis Bertans played eight minutes, and Deni Avdija had 13 points in 23 minutes after playing less than three minutes Monday against Philadelphia.
Irving did not look as though he was playing just his fifth game of the season Wednesday.
The guard scurried all over the court, pouring in 22 points before halftime on 9-of-12 shooting. At times he sprinted into wide-open lanes for perfectly timed floaters, but more often than not he worked hard to create his own shot, outpacing the Wizards’ defense.
He and Aldridge, who had 19 points in the first half, were the primary reason Brooklyn had 74 heading into the locker room. Wednesday was Aldridge’s highest-scoring half of the season.