LOS ANGELES — Of all the frustrating moments, Washington Wizards Coach Scott Brooks seethed most about something familiar. He could handle the bizarre ending, which still doesn’t make sense and marred a fabulous fourth quarter. He could handle second-year guard Tomas Satoransky missing two free throws with 51.9 seconds left and the no-call when Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan pushed off to grab a critical offensive rebound.
But his team’s early indifference? Brooks erupted.
Well, as much as he can erupt.
“You’ve got to be ready to play,” he said. “Everybody. Everybody has to be ready to play. It’s a game that we all need everybody to play. And without calling names — that’s not my style; my style is our team — and as a team, we have to be ready to play.”
After the Wizards’ 113-112 loss to the Clippers on Saturday afternoon, Brooks lamented his team’s listless performance three times in a four-minute interview. He wasn’t going to let the Wizards get away with feeling they suffered an unjust defeat. The finish was messy. When an official uses the phrases “clock malfunction” and “point of interruption” and refers to “Rule 13 section 1A-5,” you know to reach for the Advil. The Wizards had a chance to win with 1.2 seconds left, and Bradley Beal actually made a shot, albeit after the final buzzer. But then things got silly, and upon review, the Wizards were given a redo with the clock trimmed to 1.1 and the inbounds spot moved to the corner.
Afterward, Beal revealed the name an official gave for the wacky situation.
“The Tough [Expletive] Rule,” Beal said, relaying the explanation he received.
So the game ended with Satoransky throwing an inbounds pass to center Marcin Gortat, who missed a 21-foot shot out of desperation. And the Wizards lost to a struggling Clippers team missing its starting backcourt and all-star forward Blake Griffin. The Wizards scored the game’s first 13 points, thought it was going to be easy and found themselves trailing by 13 at halftime. They gave a rickety effort until midway through the third quarter, and then the game got really good, right down to Clippers guard Lou Williams making a 29-footer over Beal with 1.2 seconds left.
And then it got really strange.
“We had a clock malfunction, early start,” said the officiating crew chief, Bill Spooner, when interviewed by pool reporter Todd Dybas of the Washington Times. “The crew actually incorrectly reset the shot clock to 1.1. We should have reset it to 0.1. The reason is, on an early start, we timed the possession, the lost time. The only time that was lost was 0.1. So we should have inbounded the ball at the point of interruption, which is what we did, but it should have been at 0.1 instead of 1.1.”
Yeah, really strange. And impossible to understand.
And then Brooks got really mad — for the team putting itself in such a weird position.
On Saturday morning, Brooks praised his team before the game for how it has responded without John Wall, who is expected to return this week from a knee injury. During the two weeks Wall has missed, the Wizards are 4-4, which is pretty decent for a team missing its all-star point guard. But the way the Wizards have gotten to 4-4 can take years off your life.
There was the blown game at home against Portland. And this road trip started with an incomprehensible 47-point loss to Utah. But there have been extreme highs, too, including Beal’s 51-point effort in a victory at Portland and his 34 points in the win over Phoenix.
If the Wizards had played a professional game and beaten the Clippers, they would have exited this western swing with a 3-1 record despite being walloped by Utah in the first game of the trip. Supposedly, they learned an important lesson during that blowout and adjusted.
“We don’t want to dwell on it, but we want to know that if you don’t come to play, that can happen,” Brooks said before the game, revisiting Utah. “Any given night, if you don’t come to play with the right, appropriate energy, you’re not going to have success.”
The Wizards could be better for being forced to play without Wall. The backup point guards, Tim Frazier and Satoransky, seem more comfortable running the offense. Otto Porter Jr., who finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals Saturday, has been more aggressive. Beal has done a solid job as the No. 1 option. When Wall returns, he will be playing with teammates who are more confident and should be able to play aggressive basketball around him. Wall still drives this team, and he drives it as well as any NBA point guard could. But if the team is smart, there’s an opportunity to reduce his workload just enough to keep him healthy.
“When I knew that he was going to miss some time, my focus with our staff and our team was, ‘Let’s be a better team, day by day, without him so when he does come back, we’re going to have some growth, not only individually but how we play as a team,’ ” Brooks said. “There are going to be times where he’s out of the game. So you want to be able to say that’s happening. I think it is, but it remains to be seen. They’ve been pretty focused, and we’ve been competitive in all games but one.”
Then the Wizards came to Los Angeles and played like a team that was out too late to win a game that tipped off at 12:30 p.m. local time. Even though there are signs they have grown without Wall, you must wonder whether they’re ready now to take off and maintain a nice stretch of winning because they’re so inconsistent.
The Wizards were so erratic that Brooks chose to close the game with Beal and Porter playing with the third-string point guard (Satoransky), the backup center (Ian Mahinmi) and a forward who drifts in and out of the rotation (Mike Scott).
Yes, Satoransky was fantastic. He had 11 points, six rebounds and six assists in 27 minutes . Scott made 9 of 11 shots and had 22 points to go with eight rebounds . Mahinmi scored 14 points and played one of his best games of the season.
It should have been a game in which the bench added to a quality effort, but too many of the Wizards’ top players barely did anything. Markieff Morris scored just two points. Kelly Oubre Jr. didn’t score and didn’t provide his usual energy. Gortat had nine points and eight rebounds, but he wasn’t sharp.
Of the inconsistency, Beal said: “It’s frustrating. It’s a little bit beyond frustrating at this point. We should be tired of coming in here and saying, ‘On to the next one. On to the next one.’ We run out of games eventually.”
At 14-12, the Wizards aren’t off to an awful start. There’s plenty of time to recover and be a 50-win team. However, it won’t happen until the team plays with urgency.
Wall is returning at the right time, but he won’t solve all of the problems.