TORONTO — John Wall zipped up his winter coat, leaned back into a padded courtside seat in Scotiabank Arena and looked comfortable facing several reporters from a Toronto sports station seeking a titillating sound bite.
Wall has been in a seat like this before, and he has responded to similar questions about the state of the Washington Wizards. And so Friday, he all but yawned after the morning shoot-around when his team’s much-publicized recent turbulence came up.
“They always got to find somebody to talk about,” Wall said. “So they talk about us.”
On Friday, the Wizards hit the road for the first time since they renewed their status as the NBA’s best melodrama late last week. Their story line found a new audience north of the border, and the events of last week’s practice lived on over the airwaves. Although the Wizards gave basketball-loving Canadians something to gawk at, their play in a 125-107 loss to the host Toronto Raptors wasn’t as riveting.
The Wizards’ postgame lament that they’re simply not making shots does not play as well as it used to — especially when they looked dismal again from beyond the arc, missing an astonishing 37 three-point tries.
Bradley Beal attempted only three long-distance shots and made one, and Otto Porter Jr. aggressively tried six and also hit just one. With their two best options either not shooting enough or shooting errantly, there was little hope for the Wizards’ shooting percentages: They finished 9 for 46 (19.6 percent) from beyond the arc and 40 for 101 (39.6 percent) overall.
“We missed a lot of open ones. We missed a lot of easy ones,” said Beal, who led the Wizards with 20 points. “But it comes back to defending better. When that shot’s not working, we got to get back to guarding.”
The Wizards’ work in defending the three-point line could not hold an audience, either, as evidenced by the Toronto fans who filled the aisles before the game ended. The smart ones who decided to beat traffic already had watched their Raptors (16-4) score 101 points in three quarters on their way to a season-high 17 three-pointers at a 43.6 percent clip.
These days, Washington only seems to captivate a crowd with its off-court subplots. Its quest to be an Eastern Conference challenger has been panned around the league.
“I mean, we’re not the only team that’s going through some stuff, that’s not getting off to a great start like we want to,” Wall said. “But we’re the Wizards; they always talk about us. So we’re cool with it.”
Their act also might be growing stale with the officials. Although Wall logged 32 minutes and contributed a game-high 11 assists to go with 11 points, he earned no free throw attempts despite making four drives to the rim. Only twice in his nine-year career has Wall played more than 30 minutes but did not get a free throw attempt. The first time also happened this season, during an Oct. 30 loss at the Memphis Grizzlies; at the time, the Wizards were 1-6 and only beginning to realize the depth of their spiral.
Now the Wizards are 6-12, and their explanations for losses have become routine.
“We were chasing the ball all over the place, and we stopped making shots,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Washington played its second straight game without starting center Dwight Howard but found an early boost from his young replacement, Thomas Bryant. His energy and defense meshed well with the revamped starting unit; there were deflections, stops and positive signs as Washington held a three-point lead near the midway point of the first quarter.
But it didn’t last. Just like old times, the Wizards spent the game playing catch-up and showing they can compete with a better team when necessary. The spark ended with a flood of open shots that devastated the defensively challenged Wizards.
Toronto maintained its position as the best team in the East because Kawhi Leonard played efficiently in the midrange game and his teammates blazed the perimeter. Leonard finished with a game-high 27 points and 10 rebounds, and Kyle Lowry added 15 and nine assists.
Despite the Wizards’ shooting woes, five players reached double figures. Markieff Morris, in his second straight game coming off the bench, finished with 16 points. Otto Porter Jr. added 17, and Kelly Oubre Jr. had 13. Bryant finished with seven points in 18 minutes for the Wizards, who return home to face New Orleans on Saturday night.