The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wizards collapse again for a brutal loss to the Kyrie Irving-less Nets

Nets 125, Wizards 123

Wizards forward Deni Avdija crashes into Nets forward Royce O'Neale during Saturday's loss. (Bebeto Matthews/AP
5 min

NEW YORK — Deni Avdija lay flat on the floor, clutching the ball in his arms, until Bradley Beal walked over and lifted him up. The 22-year-old forward was the picture of defeat as the Barclays Center crowd went wild around him.

Maybe Avdija felt crushed, or maybe he was stunned — probably a little of both. It had been a rough 24 hours.

With Saturday’s 125-123 loss to the undermanned Brooklyn Nets, the Washington Wizards lost their second game in as many days after leading by at least 20 points. They are the first team to do so over the past 25 seasons, according to ESPN.

“Of course everybody’s pissed,” starting center Daniel Gafford said in a quiet locker room. “... Everybody wants to punch a hole through the wall.”

What began as a game more intriguing for off-the-court drama surrounding the Nets after Kyrie Irving requested a trade Friday ended with shocking on-the-court drama Saturday — even though the same story had played out the night before during Washington’s home loss to Portland.

The Nets were without Irving (who sat with what the team said was calf soreness), Kevin Durant (knee) and Ben Simmons (knee). Beal (left foot soreness) missed his 21st game of the season, and Washington (24-28) lost Kyle Kuzma to a left ankle sprain in the second quarter.

Nets fans had more than enough to cheer for: Cam Thomas carried Brooklyn (32-20) with 44 points off the bench — 30 of which came in the second half. And it was Gafford, Avdija, Corey Kispert and Monte Morris who were in the heart of the action for the Wizards at the end.

With his team up one, Gafford was called for goaltending after Avdija was whistled for a foul. Thomas went to the line and converted to give Brooklyn a two-point lead with 12.2 seconds left.

The Wizards still had a chance coming out of a timeout. With Beal, Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis off the floor — the Latvian had fouled out with less than three minutes left — Kispert quickly missed a three-pointer, but Morris drew a foul after Gafford’s offensive rebound. He was off on both free throws, a scramble ensued, and that was the game.

“What can I say?” Porzingis said. “It’s very similar games [with Friday’s loss], right? [The Nets] played together, stayed together throughout everything. And not that we didn’t give our all, not that we didn’t play hard — just some stupid mistakes maybe. And, again, it slipped out of our hands.”

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Thomas’s surge fueled a comeback that erased a 21-point Wizards lead in the third quarter. (They led by 23 late in the first.) Brooklyn started to probe when Patty Mills narrowed the deficit to seven midway through the third with back-to-back three-pointers. Brooklyn got within two on a Thomas three-pointer with 9:53 to play in the fourth, and this time the Nets stuck around.

The Nets and Wizards were locked in a battle from then on, and Washington must have been trying to shake off a nasty case of deja vu.

Saturday’s game was different from Friday’s loss to Portland in that it wasn’t the Wizards’ effort that waned as much as their one-on-one defense faltered and they made too many mistakes. Porzingis was an easy target without Kuzma and Beal on the floor; he fouled out with 2:51 to go, when the Wizards led 115-114. Edmond Sumner then hit two free throws to give the Nets a one-point edge.

“Smart from their head coach — they were kind of putting me in all the actions and making me guard, and those guards [were] coming downhill and trying to draw fouls,” Porzingis said. “One of those, I was there. Sumner, he’s quick and kind of ran into my legs, and that was it. Game over for me.”

Porzingis led five Wizards in double figures with 38 points, and Avdija had 23 off the bench. It was a good offensive night, but that couldn’t overcome the late-game flubs and hesitant defense.

“He came down and he got a bucket, time and time again,” Gafford said of Thomas. “We just really didn’t know how to stop that.”

The loss left the Wizards even more frustrated than they were after they surrendered a 20-point lead Friday. For the second time this season, they made a messy Brooklyn team look like a winner.

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Washington has a knack for placing itself in the middle of the Nets’ drama. In early November, Brooklyn thumped the Wizards a day after the Nets suspended Irving for refusing to disavow antisemitism after he promoted an antisemitic movie on social media. Coach Steve Nash had been fired just days earlier.

The Wizards lost again in December when they were down four players. Saturday added one more meltdown to the canon.

“Tonight I’m going to think about this a lot,” Avdija said long after he had been picked up off the floor. “I don’t like losing games like that. ... It cannot happen. It cannot happen again.”