Throughout the Washington’s 113-100 loss Friday night to an even younger opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wizards turned the ball over and committed unnecessary fouls. Their mistakes were part of another shabby defensive performance in which Cleveland built a 21-point lead in the first half and held on through a late Washington rally.
Despite a lineup shift that added another veteran to the rotation, Washington fell to 2-6, and Beal did not want to blame the team’s youth for the defensive lapses that contributed to its latest loss.
“I’m done with that excuse,” said Beal, who scored 20 points on 8-for-21 shooting and had nine assists. “And I’m not using it as one, but we got to be better. Plain and simple. Everybody, myself included. We got to be better, on that end.”
The Wizards had little time to get a feel of the game before they fell behind by double digits. It took just two possessions for the Wizards to establish a turnover trend. By the time Cleveland rookie Darius Garland’s fast break layup ripped through the net — courtesy of a steal off a bad pass from Troy Brown Jr., Washington’s third turnover — Coach Scott Brooks called a timeout with his team trailing 12-2.
“We turned it over. We gave them that 12-2 start, turned it over,” Brooks said. “It’s hard when you turn the ball over live, and we had a lot of live-ball turnovers.”
That Washington stumbled into a big hole early at home should not have been a surprise. The Wizards have trailed by at least 10 in five of their eight games, including the past three.
On Nov. 2, the Wizards couldn’t stop the Minnesota Timberwolves and eventually trailed by 34. In Indianapolis on Wednesday night, the Pacers overwhelmed the Wizards and built a 25-point lead. And in the Wizards’ only nationally televised game on ESPN, the Cavaliers had a 21-point cushion in the third quarter, taking advantage of bad possessions and poor interior defense, regularly getting to the free throw line and generally dominating the hosts.
In the first half, Cleveland scored 13 points off 12 turnovers and connected on 15 of 18 free throws, compared with the Wizards’ two attempts from the foul line.
“I blame all defense,” Beal said of the large deficits. “Everybody wants to say we’re missing shots or whatever, but I mean, if we can control making shots, we’d be 100 percent from the field. Right? So it’s defense. We’ve got to be able to guard. Get back in transition and rebound. That’s what’s killing us. Not turning the ball over, too.”
Against the Cavaliers, Brooks inserted 20-year-old Brown into the starting lineup, replacing the team’s youngest player, Isaac Bonga, at small forward. Although Brooks said the move did not reflect on Bonga’s performance as a starter, the change happened a game after Bonga and Hachimura both went scoreless in a loss to Indiana.
Bonga, who turned 20 on Friday, collected his first “DNP — Coach’s decision,” and guard Jordan McRae played backup minutes behind Beal, giving the Wizards a sixth established veteran in the 10-man rotation.
Hachimura, meanwhile, played with renewed energy, hitting his first seven shots — a mix of scores in transition and confident pullup jumpers — and made 10 of 13 attempts for 21 points. Along with center Thomas Bryant, the two young frontcourt players carried much of the offensive load.
Bryant played closer to the rim and scored 23 to go along with eight rebounds. Before the game, Brooks gave a frank answer to a question about Bryant’s shot selection. In the first seven games, Bryant had attempted 20 three-pointers compared with 24 shots at the rim. For a player who once made 14 of 14 shots (Dec. 22, 2018) while capitalizing on finishes near the rim, the new focus on outside shooting rankled his coach.
“You know, I don’t like it,” Brooks said about Bryant’s choices within the offense. “I think he’s extremely exceptional going to the basket and catching around the paint . . . and I think we need to shift it more toward that. He knows. We talked about it multiple games.”
On Friday night, Bryant turned the talk into action — and moved much closer to the rim, where he made all but three of his shots.
Despite the young players’ breakthrough, as a team the Wizards failed to consistently compete.
With 9:39 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Wizards had cut their margin to just one, but the momentum stalled with a two-minute scoreless drought that featured a familiar combination of missed shots, bad fouls and costly turnovers. In the fourth quarter, Washington connected on only 8 of 21 attempts and scored 16 points.
As the Cavaliers dribbled out the closing seconds of their win at Capital One Arena, showing a bit of sportsmanship by taking a turnover instead of launching an unnecessary shot, several Wizards players stood watching, hands on their hips.
Cleveland (3-5) actually has a less experienced roster than Washington — the Cavaliers’ average number of NBA years is 4.00, while the Wizards, skewed by players such as 15-year veteran CJ Miles, are at 4.67 years. Still, hands on their hips, the Wizards showed a posture of defeat by the end. Another loss hit the books, and Beal blamed the one trait that has defined the Wizards’ season.
“We didn’t defend,” he said. “That’s what happened.”