CHARLOTTE — Bradley Beal was struggling to breathe at times during his first preseason game with the Washington Wizards, but the chilly air inside a nearly empty Time Warner Cable Arena was more to blame than any nervous energy.
Moments after stepping onto the floor for the first time on Sunday, Beal made a fast-break layup — with long-armed Charlotte Bobcats forward Tyrus Thomas contesting aggressively — and settled into the game.
After knocking down a few three-pointers, attacking the basket for layups and floaters in the lane and learning not to always bite on Ben Gordon’s pump fakes, Beal huddled with the Bobcats’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a fellow rookie and longtime friend and adversary from high school and college. They wished each other luck and Kidd-Gilchrist told Beal, “This is a lot different.”
“You have to be in the mode the whole game,” Beal said after the Wizards’ 100-88 loss to a new-look Bobcats team that set an NBA record for worst winning percentage last season. “You can’t take a play off, because these guys will attack you.”
Beal was unaccustomed to the physicality and intelligence of the opposition, but didn’t appear overmatched as he scored a team-high 18 points on an afternoon that otherwise highlighted what will likely be a problem for the Wizards in the absence of John Wall and Nene: an inability to generate consistent offense.
Growing tired of watching his team turn over the ball when it wasn’t missing shots, Coach Randy Wittman glanced down at the box score late in the third quarter and said, “What are we shooting? Thirty-one percent?” He then joked, “That good?”
The Wizards trailed by 18 points in the second half but closed within six points when Martell Webster (18 points) had a steal and layup with 3 minutes 32 seconds remaining. But they didn’t have enough offense to complete the climb, combining to shoot just 33.3 percent (33 of 99).
Wall (left knee) and Nene (left foot) were out before the team convened at George Mason University, but the Wizards experienced some training camp casualties as Trevor Booker (left hamstring) and Jannero Pargo (abdominal strain) both were injured last week. Wittman then decided to rest Emeka Okafor, who had experienced some soreness from eight practices in five days.
With a decent lineup not able to play, Wittman started A.J. Price, Jordan Crawford, Trevor Ariza, Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin. Wittman had been mixing and matching lineups all week and the players said the starting unit probably played together once or twice before Sunday.
“We had a lot of miscommunication and turnovers,” said Price, who scored nine points with five turnovers on his 26th birthday. “That will come from playing with each other.”
Wittman blamed many of the Wizards’ offensive woes on their inability to defend with their feet instead of their hands. The Bobcats attempted 46 free throws, making just 31, as the Wizards had four players commit four or more fouls. Vesely and Chris Singleton (nine points, a team-high nine rebounds) had five apiece.
“We could never get into a rhythm offensively, because of the stoppage of play,” Wittman said. “The foul line. There was never any up-and-down play. It was stop. Ooh. Stop. Ooh. You can’t get into the rhythm.”
Webster wasn’t surprised by the foul fest, given how physical the Wizards were against each other during practice last week.
“I think we should tie our hands behind backs and play defense. Am I lying, Trev?” Webster said to Ariza, who was chuckling next to him. “I won’t even say we were aggressive. We played terrible defense in training camp.”
Seraphin had 11 points, all in the first half, but no other Wizards scored in double figures. Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson led all scorers with 19 points and Kidd-Gilchrist had 12 points and three steals, providing an impressive highlight when he wrestled the ball away from Ariza and dribbled down the floor for one of his three uncontested dunks. The Wizards committed 20 turnovers.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. Starting with myself,” said Ariza, who had eight points and shot just 2 of 8 from the floor. “I can’t turn the ball over six times in a game.”
Wittman gave the Wizards the day off on Monday and the team will return to George Mason on Tuesday for another session of two-a-day practices. They won’t have to face another opponent until hosting the New York Knicks on Friday at Verizon Center. They can also forget about a game that fortunately wasn’t broadcast on television or radio — and doesn’t count toward the regular season.
“I guess the anxiety got to us,” Beal said. “We were all anxious and excited for this first game. We lost sight of what the team needs to do.”