NEW YORK — The final game of the Washington Wizards' long road trip Tuesday night also represented what might be their last game without John Wall.
While the Wizards lost, 103-98, to the Brooklyn Nets, Wall sat in his familiar spot as the first player on the bench next to the four coaches. Wall, who has missed nine consecutive games after having platelet-rich plasma and viscosupplementation injections in his left knee, recently returned to team practices and has shown progress. Depending on how Wall's knee responds by Wednesday, he could "very likely" play on the second night of a back-to-back set against the Memphis Grizzlies at Capital One Arena, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Wall's impending return provides encouraging news for a team otherwise reeling with problems — late-game inbounds plays have gone sideways, and postgame interviews have turned into veiled shots at players' effort recently.
Backup point guard Tomas Satoransky, on the floor to replace starter Tim Frazier, committed a five-second violation while trying to throw the inbounds pass with eight seconds to play and the Wizards down by three — evoking bad memories from Saturday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
"I'm tired of inbounds plays at the end of games, man," Bradley Beal said.
Satoransky's mere presence on the floor in these late moments masks a greater problem: The Wizards have turned to backups as starters have no-showed.
Coach Scott Brooks chose his words carefully to shower praise on the reserves, despite Satoransky's turnover, in direct contrast with the starting group.
"I thought our guys off the bench did a great job competing. We have to get more effort from our starters," Brooks said. "Bottom line."
While Beal ran the show, as he has without Wall on the floor, and finished with a game-high 28 points, he needed 33 shot attempts. For the third time on this five-game trip, starting power forward Markieff Morris did not play in the fourth quarter. And center Marcin Gortat nearly sat the entire final quarter as well before entering the game to set a screen for Beal's potential game-tying three before the five-second violation.
"I like the guys' tenacity, togetherness and the fight with that second unit," Brooks said, before adding: "And some of our starters."
Overall, Washington (14-13) has played 11 games this season without its starting point guard. The team fell to 5-6 in those games Tuesday, but as on most of the Wall-less nights, Washington played down to the level of a mediocre opponent.
The Nets (11-15) play on as their two best guards, Jeremy Lin and D'Angelo Russell, recover from knee injuries, but they brandish effort as a weapon and employ the three-point shot as an equalizer. Far too often this season, opponents have vanquished the Wizards with one or both of those characteristics.
Washington's defense buckled late in the game as Allen Crabbe popped free beyond the arc for a three-pointer that gave the Nets a 100-98 lead with 43.8 seconds remaining.
In the last 2½ weeks with Wall sidelined, Brooks wanted to see growth. While development happened in flashes — Beal scored like an all-star, and Satoransky and Mike Scott consistently excelled on the improved second unit — Washington also remained static with bad habits.
"We got to figure it out as a team," Morris said. "Obviously, we don't have our best player, but we just got to figure it out. We can't tip off like this as we did tonight and the last couple of games, because we're better than that."
Even while shorthanded, Washington has a vastly superior roster to Brooklyn's, yet the Wizards fell behind by 14 points by the third quarter.
With or without Wall, the Wizards drop in and out of a defensive mind-set. In the closing seconds of the first half, Beal dribbled around the perimeter while being hounded by the hard-playing Quincy Acy. Beal never lost the big man and shot his layup too high off the backboard. From that miss, Brooklyn transitioned into an open corner three-pointer for Joe Harris, the team's sixth three out of 22 first-half attempts. Overall, Washington had to defend 43 shots from beyond the arc.
"If you're not locked in, that's what happens," Brooks said. "We let them run their offense, and they play at a high pace."
Offensively, the Wizards learned how challenging it can be to create their own shots and get good looks without Wall, and on Tuesday, they shot 40 percent.
"Of course he has something to do with it," Morris said. "He's the leader of the team, and he's basically the guy who gets everybody involved."
The Wizards tried playing the final 6:17 without a true point guard on the floor. But when Beal committed a turnover in trying to find Otto Porter Jr. — a play in which Brooks said Jason Smith made a poor screen and Porter did not come off clean — and the Nets converted it into a three-point play, Satoransky entered the game with 2:06 to play.
The lineup switch didn't help the Wizards at the end of the game. Beal missed a shot after Crabbe's go-ahead three, and on the other end, the Wizards could not grab the defensive rebound and failed to commit a foul as the Nets retained possession and called a timeout with 9.5 seconds left.
Though Wall could soon help the Wizards, his imminent return wasn't enough to lift the team's spirits in Brooklyn. Beal, crestfallen after the game, summed up the Wizards' 2-3 road trip like a broken record.
"Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible," Beal said.