On the spectrum of losses that could have snapped the Washington Wizards’ six-game winning streak, Friday’s was among the worst. Nothing bites quite like complacency.
“That was a master class on how to lose a game, huh?” Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma said.
Washington filed out of the locker room without any of the energy it used to leap to a double-digit lead less than three minutes after tip-off.
Portland had nine three-pointers in the third quarter, and as the Wizards’ defense faded, their offense slouched in kind: Their shooting percentage from the field dropped from 54.3 percent in the first half to 38.9 percent in the third quarter.
“They did more switching, and we started staring at the switches … and it kind of stifled us,” Wizards Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said.
In the first half it looked as if it was going to be an easy night of work. The Wizards accumulated the 20-point lead with two minutes left in the first quarter.
As they cruised, they flaunted and had a bit of fun — Bradley Beal, in chasing a loose ball, ran into the courtside seats where his family sits and cheekily grabbed a bit of his wife’s snack late in the first quarter. Daniel Gafford slammed crowd-pleasing dunks, and Porzingis earned hearty applause for a pair of three-pointers before halftime.
Perhaps most impressive was how they made Lillard — a seven-time all-star, including this season — look mortal.
But the Wizards (24-27) could have predicted that Lillard would get hot. The guard entered the contest having put up spectacular numbers in the previous 10 games: he averaged 38 points and shot 52.4 percent from the field, 40.7 percent from beyond the three-point arc (on 11.8 three-point attempts per game) and 95.9 percent from the free throw line (where he averaged 12.1 attempts).
Lillard finished Friday with 29 points while Simons led the team with 33. Silver Spring native Josh Hart had 21 points and nine rebounds, and Trendon Watford had 21 points off the bench.
Simons, a 23-year-old guard, made nine three-pointers. Washington’s poor perimeter defense wasted good offensive performances from Beal (34 points) and Kristaps Porzingis (32).
The Wizards have a chance to get back on track against the Nets on Saturday in Brooklyn, where the franchise was thrown into chaos again Friday when Kyrie Irving, a starter in the NBA All-Star Game later this month, requested a trade. But Unseld was realistic about the mental refocusing that needs to happen first.
“There’s frustration there because we didn’t play a complete 48 minutes. Solid 24, and obviously we’ve got to get on a plane and figure it out and reload for tomorrow, but we’re going to see a very similar defense,” Unseld said. “Hopefully it’s a lesson for us that we have to continue to move the ball and place with a bit more purpose, more pace.”
Kuzma had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and guard Corey Kispert added 12 points off the bench.
Kuzma’s disappointment reflected the mood of the locker room. The group that had been so delighted after a win in San Antonio on Monday had, naturally, come down by Friday night.
Porzingis saw that as evidence that the team’s standards have shifted. “Everybody feels like we should have won and we were supposed to win and all that,” he said. “And I like that mind-set that we have now; after this winning streak, I like how our identity is changing.”
Kuzma, on the other hand, saw the game only as an opportunity lost.
“It’s just a sucker punch; it’s tough,” Kuzma said. “We had a lot of momentum and s--- it away.”
The Wizards are as healthy as they have been all season, which has certainly contributed to the recent winning. Beal said he tweaked a foot during the game but was feeling fine after. Backup forward Anthony Gill, though, remained in the league’s coronavirus protocols Friday and almost certainly will not travel with the team to Brooklyn.