CHARLOTTE — The pendulum swung again for the Washington Wizards this week. If Kristaps Porzingis’s career night and a massive home win Monday was the team’s North Pole, a 117-116 loss to the offensively challenged, injury-riddled Charlotte Hornets on Friday was south as south can be.
But the Hornets entered Friday’s game with just six wins in 21 games and had the worst-rated offense in the NBA. They were missing Gordon Hayward and remain without LaMelo Ball (ankle), meaning P.J. Washington, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mason Plumlee and Terry Rozier were the Wizards’ conquerors.
It was one of Washington’s more passive outings of the season, even if it did climb out of a 20-point hole to have a chance to win on its final possession. But it took until the fourth quarter for the Wizards to remember that, at least on paper, they were the better team on the floor.
Porzingis, the wiliest on the team at drawing fouls, got to the free throw line with 4:40 to play and his team down seven. Beal goaded his defender to execute a textbook step-back jumper in the midrange then danced along the three-point line, missing his shot but drawing a foul. His layup on the next possession made it a one-point game.
He had powered the comeback with 11 points in the fourth quarter, but it was the two turnovers Beal committed with less than 1:29 to play that allowed the Hornets to hold on. All told, the Wizards had 14 giveaways to just four for the hosts.
“It’s not ideal of course — I think some of it just might be fatigue,” Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.
The Wizards’ final offensive trip summed up the entire contest. With his team trailing by a point with less than four seconds to play, a tired-looking Beal put up a routine jumper that clanged off the rim, out of the lackadaisical Wizards’ control and into the arms of the Hornets.
“The biggest thing we learned is we just can’t get in a hole like that,” Beal said. “Definitely we were tired, but we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to dig ourselves out of the hole. … It’s tough to climb out of those holes and close out games, too.”
Beal led the team with 33 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Porzingis worked his way to 21 points, 11 of which came at the free throw line, and 11 rebounds.
Kyle Kuzma and Corey Kispert added 14 points apiece.
The Wizards’ issues began on the glass. Where the Wizards were content from the first quarter to watch rebounds fall out of their reach, the Hornets (7-15) were insistent about chasing their shots and generating opportunities — something the Wizards knew and prepared for ahead of time. But a whopping 13 offensive rebounds from Charlotte and eight largely boneheaded turnovers from Washington meant the Hornets made 27 of 51 field goals compared with the visitors’ 22 of 40 before halftime.
“One rebound bounced over my head fast as s---, and they grabbed it, turned around and threw it out,” backup center Daniel Gafford said. “Little things like that, that’s something that we have to take away because they’re a good second-chance team. Whenever they get the ball, offensive rebounds, they’re throwing it right back out for daggers. They’re not looking for two-pointers. They’re not looking for back cuts. They’re looking for threes. That’s what they got tonight.”
Nobody looked good, but of Washington’s primary scorers, Porzingis struggled most. He ended the half with six points, two rebounds, two assists and three turnovers, and he struggled to affect anything on the defensive end. Charlotte players met little resistance slicing through the lane or backing into spots under the basket — the Hornets had 38 points in the paint in the first half.
Even Unseld’s in-case-of-emergency move — subbing in veteran center Taj Gibson for an energy shift — failed to turn things. The Hornets took a 74-59 lead into halftime.
Rozier led Charlotte with 25 points for the game and Oubre had 22.
“We didn’t guard. We didn’t rebound, plain and simple. I’m never going to talk about offense — our offense, we can score with the best of them,” Beal said. “We’ve got some really good scorers in here . . . but we’ve got to be better defensively. Way too many straight-line drives, way too much pressure on our bigs. Us guards, we’ve got to be better on the ball. And we have to gain rebounds. Us guards, we have to get in, help the bigs rebound. They were active on the boards, and that’s what kept them in the game.”
Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:
There is no firm timeline for Rui Hachimura’s return, and he is considered week-to-week, Unseld said, after a Monday MRI exam revealed the forward has a bone bruise. Hachimura sprained his right ankle in the fourth quarter of a Nov. 18 win against Miami, and the team decided to order further imaging after swelling subsided.
Unseld noted the only real fix for a bone bruise is time. Hachimura missed his seventh game Friday.
“It’s just a pain threshold, where it’s aggravating to make certain movements but he’s still able to participate in shootarounds and practice to a certain extent,” Unseld said. “Right now there’s really no timeline. You could call it week-to-week where he is. Hopefully it’s sooner than later. But we certainly don’t want to push him too soon.”
Supporting cast struggles
There was a particularly gruesome sequence late in the second quarter that turned Deni Avdija’s night from bad to worse. The starting forward struggled throughout the first half and rode the bench for the second but not before committing two turnovers in succession — one on an inbounds play and another on a backcourt violation — that contributed to an 8-0 run from Charlotte.
The 21-year-old did not score or record an assist and ended with just one rebound in nine minutes, ceding his starting spot to Kispert after halftime.
But Avdija was far from the only rotation player with issues Friday. Backup wing Will Barton, who has had a below-average season by his own standards, had just seven points in 20 minutes. The usually energetic Jordan Goodwin scored just three points. Gafford, although he had 12 rebounds and a season-high six blocks, chided himself for making just 4 of 10 from the free throw line.