NEW ORLEANS — Minutes before the Washington Wizards began a four-game, six-day trip with a 107-105 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans at Smoothie King Center on Friday night, it was announced that Bradley Beal, their leading scorer, was going to be a spectator. His right leg was sore, and the Wizards decided to sit him as a precaution.
While the decision was made for Beal’s long-term health — right leg injuries have plagued him his entire career — it left an already depleted Wizards roster even more shorthanded. For the fourth time in less than two weeks, they had to play a game with just 10 available players as Beal joined Kris Humphries (ankle), Nene (calf), Drew Gooden III (calf) and Alan Anderson (ankle) on the sideline.
Such a scenario usually would spell disaster for a club desperately searching for consistency. But these Wizards are a bizarre basketball team, one that can topple title contenders on the road one night and succumb to lottery participants the next. So the Wizards didn’t fold. Instead, they held a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. A win looked likely. Then the effects of Beal’s absence took hold.
The Wizards (9-12) shot 3 for 13 after taking that seven-point advantage. It was the type of offensive meltdown with which Washington has become familiar.
“We had looks that we liked, and they made the shots,” John Wall said. “And I know people are probably tired of hearing the same [stuff], same thing, but when they’re making shots and we’re missing shots, we’re going to lose the game in the fourth quarter.”
The Wizards still had an opportunity to win the game or force overtime on their final possession. Trailing by two with 4.7 seconds remaining, the Wizards came out of a timeout with a play designed to get Wall to the basket for a layup or a pass to Gary Neal at the three-point line on the weak side. When the defense collapsed on Wall, he chose the second option. Neal had a clean look at a midrange jumper after pump-faking behind the three-point line. The shot clanked off the front rim.
“We gave ourselves a chance to win,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “That’s what you try to do each and every night, and we did that tonight.”
The contest found the two teams in oddly similar situations. Both teams have failed to meet expectations as they have been ravaged by injuries during transitions to new pace-and-space offensive systems. The drop-off is most evident at the defensive end; the teams entered the night having surrendered the biggest increase in points from last season.
Defending the three-pointer also has been an issue for both teams. Both began the night allowing opponents to shoot 39.3 percent from beyond the arc, tied for the worst mark in the NBA. But it was New Orleans (6-16) who capitalized, making a franchise-record 16 three-pointers on 27 attempts.
Tyreke Evans, who came in shooting just 25 percent from beyond the arc, went 5 for 6 from three-point range en route to a game-high 27 points. Jrue Holiday shot 5 for 6 from three and added 19 points off the bench. But no three-pointer was more important than all-star Anthony Davis’s with 2 minutes 35 seconds remaining. The shot touched every part of the rim before going through to forge a tie at 103. It was Davis’s only three-pointer and the Pelicans’ final one of the night. Davis finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
“That’s our Achilles’ heel — teams that shoot a high percentage of threes,” Wizards forward Jared Dudley said. “We have to figure that out.”
Without Beal to co-star, Wall smoothly assumed the additional burden and continued his blistering December with 26 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. It was his fourth straight game with at least 26 points and seven assists, the first such stretch of his career.
Before the game, the point guard revealed some information that helped explain why he struggled so mightily in November and morphed into one of the NBA’s best players since Dec. 1: He sprained his right ankle against the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 4, and it hobbled him for weeks.
“But I’m not going to make an excuse,” Wall said.
The Wizards could be severely undermanned again Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks; Wittman said Beal’s status is uncertain and he will have his right leg examined. It would be a devastating setback, but the Wizards were encouraged by their effort Friday. They know, however, that effort alone isn’t enough.
“We’re professionals,” guard Garrett Temple said. “We’re not playing no YMCA league. Honestly, who cares about effort if you can’t get wins? We got to win games, man. No matter who suits up, we got the guys in this room that can win games, and we got to start doing that.”