Beal watched the Wizards’ 109-91 loss from the sideline dressed in street clothes with matching sneakers and a beanie. In an ideal world, Washington (6-17) would have liked him to lace up his basketball shoes instead.
But in this reality, the Wizards are trying to avoid grinding their star player to dust.
“This is a period that we feel he could get some rest,” Coach Scott Brooks said on a videoconference before the game. “It’d be good for his body; he’s fought a lot. He’s not hurt, he’s just — you know, we need to look ahead in the schedule, and that’s the way it is.”
The Wizards were steamrolled at Capital One Arena without him, posting their second-lowest offensive outing of the season and only keeping things respectable through most of three quarters because of how terribly the Knicks (12-15) shot from beyond the arc.
Otherwise, Washington’s offense was inert in Beal’s second missed game. He also sat during a Jan. 9 loss to the Miami Heat because of the league’s coronavirus protocols. This loss featured poor spacing, sticky ball movement and 14 turnovers.
Afterward, Brooks and his players struggled to explain the team’s poor three-point shooting. The Wizards have shot below 30 percent from beyond the arc for their past five games — four of which have been losses by at least 20 points.
Yet another blowout loss prompted a question about how the coaching staff avoids losing the locker room after such a demoralizing stretch of games.
“We do our job every night. I believe in our guys,” Brooks said. “We’re going to continue to work; we’re going to continue to get better; we’re going to continue to find ways that we can improve our team. . . . We’re just worried about coaching our guys. We’ve got a great opportunity to turn it around, stick together — that’s the only way you can get out of this.”
The other core issue addressed in the team’s postgame video conferences has become a familiar one.
Brooks, starting point guard Russell Westbrook and even Garrison Mathews — the backup guard who started in place of Beal on Friday and is on a two-way contract with the Wizards, splitting his time between the NBA and the G League — said the team needs to take more pride in its defense.
Mathews got his first career NBA start Friday but wasn’t pleased with his night because of the loss and his defensive performance on Knicks guard R.J. Barrett (eight points).
“You’re going to get scored one-on-one every now and then. But it’s how bad does it hurt getting scored one-on-one is the problem. If it doesn’t really hurt, then something’s going on,” Mathews said. “And it’s not even just getting beat one-on-one, it’s being in the right spots on help side. It’s taking a charge . . . all those things, hustling on defense.
“We can’t just play offense — we’re not even playing good offensively right now. We’re not shooting great, and that happens. But we cannot let that affect the defensive end. From my experience, from my viewpoint, defense is a want-to.”
Westbrook led the team with 23 points on 10-of-22 shooting, nine rebounds and 10 assists. Mathews added 14 points, including four three-pointers.
Starting forward Rui Hachimura and backup guard Troy Brown Jr. each added 10 points.
Julius Randle led the Knicks with 24 points and 18 rebounds. Starting center Mitchell Robinson might have been right there with him — he had a double-double at halftime — but left the game after one half with a fractured right hand, according to New York.
Washington played the second half down a man as well. One game after he missed time because he needed stitches in his lip, backup point guard Ish Smith missed the second half Friday with tightness in his right quadriceps.
Before their departures, the Wizards once again had trouble at the three-point line: Washington made 4 of 20 from beyond the arc in the first half, two of which belonged to Brown.
The Knicks weren’t much better from long range — they shot 1-for-6 from three in the first half and ended the game going 6-for-24 — but they balanced things out by dominating in the paint. Robinson played bully before his injury and had 10 points and 14 rebounds by halftime, helping New York to a 65-46 edge on the boards for the game.
The Wizards had just seven second-chance points all night.
“Only thing I’m not going to do is give up or give in, to our record or anything else that’s going on,” Westbrook said. “It’s always keep fighting, instilling some confidence somehow, some way, to my teammates. Just have to go back to the drawing board and try to figure it out.”