DETROIT — In their last real dress rehearsal of the preseason, the Washington Wizards played like the game mattered. The starters logged substantial minutes. The defense shut down a punishing and physical opponent. And John Wall shifted into all-star mode.
Wednesday night, the Wizards defeated the Detroit Pistons, 102-97, for their third win in four preseason games. The matchup essentially served as the final test for the core players before the regular season; the team hosts a Chinese Basketball League opponent Friday. With that in mind, the starters, those who remained out of foul trouble, played more than 22 minutes.
The group consisting of Wall, Bradley Beal, Austin Rivers, Markieff Morris and Jeff Green closed out the game. Wall made all five of his shots in the fourth quarter and finished with his best performance of the preseason: 32 points (12 of 23 from the floor), nine assists, five rebounds and three steals.
With four seconds remaining, Wall drilled a midrange jumper to put the Wizards ahead by five. Though Wall’s offensive excellence sealed the game, Coach Scott Brooks believes the defensive work was just as stellar.
Detroit played its starting lineup — featuring Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and Reggie Jackson — for the first time in the preseason and although the trio reached double figures, Washington held the team to just 35.6 percent shooting.
“The starters, John and Brad [Beal] were terrific on the defensive end,” Brooks said. “I thought they won the game defensively tonight.”
Brooks indicated that starters will not play as much in Friday’s preseason finale.
Top takeaways from the team’s exhibition season:
Still raining threes: Players spent the preseason in target practice, launching freely from three-point territory. Even Ian Mahinmi, who has never been considered much of a shooter, squared up from the arc. In Detroit, the three-point emphasis continued as the team attempted 32 of them.
The starters set the tone by taking six of their opening eight shots from the three-point circle. If one missed — like Morris’s deep shot to start the game — the Wizards weren’t deterred. After Morris’s missed three, Otto Porter Jr. kept the possession alive and the ball went back out to Beal who shot a three.
Over the four games, the Wizards have averaged 36.3 three-point attempts. If Washington had sustained that pace through the 2017-18 regular season, the team would have ranked third in the league behind Houston and Brooklyn.
All those threes soiled the team’s overall field goal percentage as Washington averaged only 10 makes per game (27.6 percent).
10-man rotation: Throughout the preseason, Brooks revealed his plans. From the first game when starters played limited minutes until Wednesday night, Brooks kept his rotation in tact by largely using the same 10 players for the minutes that mattered.
Mahinmi had to step into the starting five for Dwight Howard, a move that disrupted the look of the second unit. However, the bench rotation offered no surprises: Rivers and Green will complete the unit along with Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre Jr.
Wednesday, Brooks played his five-man bench through most of the second quarter and the same group also started the fourth quarter. During their second-quarter stint, the reserves outscored Detroit by six and built a 44-33 lead before three starters reentered. By the final frame, the lineup held back the rallying Pistons before starters returned to the floor around the midway mark.
Small sample sizes for small-ball lineups: While Brooks showed his hand with his rotation, he only experimented with the team’s versatility.
Besides shooting more threes, the team wants to play fast and use smaller lineups. During the preseason, the Wizards did not use their forwards at the five spot for long stretches.
Even Wednesday, when Brooks gave the starters their last true run of the exhibition season, Green played less than two minutes as the center in the second quarter. In the fourth, Green and Morris made up the frontcourt. That move seemed as much about the centers’ foul trouble (Mahinmi had five, Jason Smith fouled out with 14 points) than it did with spacing out the Pistons.
“We wanted to see some small lineups finishing games,” Brooks said. “That unit hasn’t played that many minutes, even in practice. So, it was good to see them play some game minutes.”
Where’s the rookie? As the Wizards closed out their most competitive game of the preseason, Troy Brown Jr. stood near the sideline and cheered. Brown, the team’s top draft pick (No. 15 overall) collected his second DNP. In the preseason, Brown has logged only 43 minutes.
“He’s gaining some great experience by playing some of the minutes he’s played [and by] practicing,” Brooks said. “He’s getting better but like every young player there’s going to be a learning curve and he’s no different.”