The night should have felt cathartic.
For the players, who spent the previous day-and-a-half receiving text alerts about their availability in trades or their private frustrations becoming tweets. For the coach, who has been shouldering the blame for the team’s slow start. For the fan base, many of whom paid for tickets Tuesday night at Capital One Arena and voiced their displeasure at what’s been happening on and off the court.
Though the win should have purged from the Wizards (6-11) the effects of a contentious practice last week through the unifying goal of winning a basketball game, the night did not end with the joy many would have expected from such a rally.
“We still have a lot of stuff to fix. It’s one game,” Bradley Beal said. “I’m still not happy. I know that everybody is still not happy with where we are. We still have a lot of work to do but you definitely take a lot of positives out of it, especially with all the negativity that’s been around us. We take all the positives we can get.”
As Beal delivered these words, he was bloodied and bruised with a gash over his right eye from a collision with Clippers guard Tyrone Wallace. Since Monday, the Wizards have taken body blows after a contentious practice of last week became public. The airing of the dirty laundry, which included an anonymous player speaking to ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith and pinning the team’s struggles on John Wall, has turned the Wizards into the NBA’s juiciest drama.
Inside the locker room, although Washington fought back from a 24-point deficit in the first half and defeated the solid Clippers (11-6), the sun didn’t quite come out.
Wall spoke in a monotone in describing the win as “cool.” And Markieff Morris shared a colorful rebuke for any anonymous source with the team.
“Nah, not really,” Morris responded when asked if the win provided a nice moment for a team in turmoil. “It’s f---ed up what’s going on. So, I wouldn’t say it makes it nicer. We just need to figure it out.”
“The comments that’s coming from the locker room is f---ed up,” Morris continued. “That don’t happen in other sports. So it’s messed up.”
Then Morris was asked if he addressed this point within the team.
“I don’t know who it is,” he said. “So it’s hard to address. But it’s messed up.”
With the losses piling up and the dysfunction swirling around a locker room that swears it’s not fractured, Coach Scott Brooks made a rare coaching move, at least for him, by removing Morris from the starting five. Though in the opening play, the new starter, second-year player Thomas Bryant, finished an alley-oop from Beal, the energy of that play did not continue through the rest of the quarter.
For the second consecutive game, the Wizards allowed an opponent to build a 20-point lead in the opening quarter. And for the fourth time, Washington surrendered at least 70 points in the first half.
“That first quarter, it’s not like we were not trying,” Brooks said. “They were making shots and made an effort to try to defend them, and we could not stop anybody. It was one of those nights we all had the golden arm — whoever we were guarding, that ball was going in — in that first quarter.”
But instead of wilting and closing the game with another blowout loss, the Wizards rallied. Morris played the final quarter in which the team scored 39 points, the same total the energetic second unit produced in Sunday’s loss, and he even hit the corner three that gave Washington its first lead since the first quarter.
Wall and Beal also came up big down the stretch, combining to make 7 of 10 shots, and Jeff Green was stabilizing by making another four shots. And yet the winning moments did not produce much relief for a team still trying to heal from its self-inflicted wounds.
“It’s just effort and heart,” Wall said in explaining the comeback. “We played defense. That’s all.”