CHARLOTTE — There are two identities at war inside the Washington Wizards. One still eyes the postseason and started the first game after the all-star break by scoring with efficiency and ease. That version of the Wizards opened a double-digit lead over the Charlotte Hornets, a potential playoff team.
The other, less optimal personality then fumbled away that hot start by sloppily handing possessions and tossing bricks off the Spectrum Center rims. And that version ruined what could have been a springboard moment for the Wizards.
On Friday night, the Wizards remained too attached to their second nature, losing, 123-110, to the Hornets. Instead of earning a rare road win against the seventh-place team in the Eastern Conference, Washington fell to a season-low 11 games under .500 at 24-35. The significance of blowing a chance to gain ground in the conference was not lost on a frustrated Bradley Beal after the game.
“I’m definitely pissed,” Beal said to open his postgame media availability. “We just got to be better at the end of the day. I mean, we can’t blame anything, nobody but ourselves.”
Although Washington still has 23 games remaining — and one of the league’s easiest schedules (according to various metrics) — nights such as Friday damage the illusion of better days.
While Beal returned from the break with a complete performance: a season-high 46 points on 16-for-25 shooting, seven assists and six rebounds, he had to play the entire fourth quarter and log 42 minutes on the first night of a back-to-back. However impressive his individual line might have been, the loss took away the sheen for Beal.
“We just got to be a lot better on both ends of the floor, and I got to be better in leading us,” Beal said. “Doing whatever it takes to get wins, man, that’s all that matters at this point. Forty points don’t matter. All that [stuff] don’t matter. We got to win ballgames, and we’re not doing that.”
Beal received little backup from his teammates. The Wizards made 16 of their first 23 shots (69.6 percent) but shot 35 percent the rest of the game. Fellow Eastern Conference all-star Kemba Walker finished with 27 points and 11 assists, and five other Hornets players reached double figures.
Other than Beal, no other Washington player scored more than 16 points (Jeff Green).
Besides scoring, Beal had to take on lead-guard responsibilities later in the game when starting point guard Tomas Satoransky sat on the bench and Coach Scott Brooks limited backup Chasson Randle’s minutes after a rough stretch in the second quarter.
“We got to figure out how we can continue to play well when [Beal’s] not on the floor,” Brooks said. “I’m like everybody. I love to play your best players the entire game, but you can’t. We’ve got to figure out how we can play better without having Brad on the floor.”
When Beal took a break, the Wizards’ problems began in the second quarter. With a lineup of four reserves — the bench unit remains a work in progress with new players Jabari Parker, Bobby Portis and Wesley Johnson — Washington committed three consecutive turnovers and finished with six in the quarter. When the Wizards did get into their offense, they missed 20 of 27 attempts from the floor.
“They got a few steals, got in the open court, got a few baskets,” Randle summarized. “That gave them confidence opening it for them in the half court. We’ve got to do a better job starting quarters, but that’s on us tonight.”
Charlotte (28-30) outscored Washington by 16 points in the quarter and maintained a cushion through the rest of the game — despite Beal’s best efforts.
Beal made a flurry of shots for 14 first-quarter points, looking like he did last weekend when he was on this court playing for Team LeBron in the All-Star Game.
But his big night didn’t come without pain and suffering. Near the end of the opening frame, Beal nailed a step-back jumper over center Bismack Biyombo and tripped over his own feet while backpedaling, and after Beal hit the floor, the big man fell on top of him.
Later in the game, as Beal dribbled to the rim, he attracted a horde of defenders and often paid the price for his aggressiveness. In the third quarter, another Hornets big man, Cody Zeller, connected with Beal’s head while trying to swat his shot. Officials reviewed the play and determined it to be a common foul and not the “unnecessary contact” of a flagrant-one. For his trouble, the Wizards’ all-star led all players with 10 free throw attempts.
Near the end of the third quarter, Beal had a singular focus. He left Tony Parker, Charlotte’s aging point guard, on the perimeter, then attacked a rare opening in the purple paint. He threw down a vicious right-handed dunk, then stood near the baseline for a moment, punctuating the play. As impressive as the drive was, it accounted for just two points on a night the Wizards could have used plenty more.
Though the season is nearing a rough conclusion, Beal still wants the Wizards to be the team obsessed with making the playoffs.
“That’s the big picture at the end of the day is to make the playoffs,” Beal said. “Nobody should be focusing on anything else but that. Our goal and our job is to make the playoffs. Whatever it looks like. Don’t give a damn if we’re the eighth seed. Like, let’s get in and worry about it when we get there. And we just got to give ourselves a better chance than what we’re doing.”
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