Bradley Beal stopped chasing Cleveland Cavaliers backup and Fort Washington native Jarrett Jack up the court, expecting Jack to dribble out the final 16 seconds of the Washington Wizards' 103-96 overtime loss. The Wizards conceded the game but as Beal, Nene and Marcin Gortat stood still, Jack decided to take the ball to the basket for an uncontested layup.
Beal glared at Jack, then quickly added a meaningless layup of his own before approaching Jack, whom Beal considers a friend, to ask why he was running up the score. Jack told Beal that the game is never over, Beal disagreed, and referee Olandis Poole rushed in to separate the two players. Members of both teams crowded Beal and Jack, creating a scene that flustered Beal even more.
“The benches sort of blew things out of proportion,” Beal said afterward. “Me and Jack are cool.”
Coach Randy Wittman later grabbed Beal, directing him to head to the locker room, and Beal barked back. Beal was obviously agitated, but Jack’s layup was only a fraction of his frustration, which was rooted more in the Wizards' inability to finish games — and yet another poor start to a season of supposedly higher expectations.
The Wizards are 2-7 for the second time in the past five seasons — they were worse after nine games in the past two seasons — and Beal is confused when he looks at the standings and sees his team tied with Milwaukee at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
“We thought it would be the opposite, if anything,” Beal said of the Wizards’ record. “I think we’re still high spirited, because we know we’re capable of winning. We know we can compete. We know we’re not a horrible team. But it hurts and we’re all saddened that we’re capable of winning these games and we just give them away.”
An inability to finish is the primary reason for the Wizards’ poor start. The latest loss to the Cavaliers continued a troubling trend for a team that has been unable to hold on to games that they seemingly had in control. The Wizards blew a 14-point second-half lead against Philadelphia, a 10-point lead with three minutes left in Oklahoma City and a 15-point first-half lead against Cleveland.
Beal gave the Wizards an 87-82 lead over the Cavaliers with 3 minutes 4 seconds left, but they surrendered a 6-0 run, regained the lead, lost it again, tied the score and collapsed in overtime. Washington is 1-3 in games in which it led or trailed by five points with five minutes remaining.
“It’s very upsetting,” reserve guard Garrett Temple said. “Nothing more you can say, except, you’re tired of saying the same thing every time: ‘We’re there. We’re there.’ Eventually, you got to get across the hump.”
The Wizards lost their first 12 games last season but had a built-in excuse because John Wall was sidelined with a stress injury in his left knee and Nene was working himself back into shape from plantar fasciitis. This season, the Wizards have had their primary pieces but aside from a heroic effort by Nene and some timely defense by Wall against Brooklyn, the results in crunch time have been lacking.
Since making a career-high five three-pointers in a road victory over Philadelphia, Wall is averaging just 12.8 points on 29 percent shooting. But he refuses to blame his struggles on back spasms that have flared up for most of this season and had him resting on a heat pack along the sideline, rather than sitting on the bench, in the loss to Cleveland.
Wall had a rough outing against the Cavaliers, getting outscored 41-9 by fellow former No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving. After accounting for the Wizards' first 17 points — five assists, a floater and three-point play — Wall was passive the rest of way as he shot poorly and handed out just one of his game-high 12 assists in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“You got to find a way, and we’ve got to find it soon,” Wall said. “I think we’re taking tough shots down the stretch and other teams are taking easier shots and getting to the free throw line, simply easier than we are.”
After calling out some of his younger teammates after a lopsided loss to San Antonio, Nene missed a free throw with 24 seconds remaining in regulation that was costly against Cleveland. He stole the ball from Irving on the next possession but the Wizards couldn’t get a quality shot. When asked what can be done to help the Wizards finish out games, Nene said, “I just pray. When I have the opportunity to give my best on the court, I give my best on the court. But if the result doesn’t come, you need to keep fighting.”
Beal believes the Wizards have to do more. “It’s frustrating. All of the games we lost, they were all winnable games. That’s probably what hurts the most,” Beal said. “The game is in our hands and we’re like, ‘Here Cleveland. Here’s the game.’ Good thing it’s at the beginning of the year, but the same time, you hate losing.”