Just as he does before every home game, Scott Brooks sat in front of a blue backdrop and answered questions. But on Thursday night, the five minutes Brooks spent before reporters were focused on the opponent. Brooks answered six out of eight questions about the Golden State Warriors — among them, how their starting lineup resembles an all-star cast, why Kevin Durant could end his career with the NBA all-time scoring record and what defensive siren must sound when the Warriors start revving up.
Brooks eventually reached his limit. As it wrapped up, Brooks walked toward the door, stopped and turned around with a query of his own.
“Any questions on the Wizards?” he quipped.
For the 48 minutes that followed, the Wizards sought the same answers that the rest of the league has been looking for since Jan. 5: Can anybody beat the Warriors? Not on Thursday — Golden State pulled away from the Wizards, 126-118, for its ninth straight win.
“They really are offensively one of the best teams in history,” Wizards point guard Tomas Satoransky said of the two-time defending champions. “It’s very, very tough. They make you tired, just running them around and switching all the screens.”
The Warriors, the best team in the Western Conference at 34-14, extended their season-best winning streak by feasting on easy shots and treating the three-point arc like a luxury. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, who were named Western Conference all-star starters before the game, were efficient, both shooting 50 percent or better, and scored 21 and 38 points, respectively.
The Wizards (20-27), playing their best stretch of the season, stayed close into the final quarter; they trailed by two with under seven minutes remaining before reality kicked in. And as Durant and Curry breezed, Bradley Beal labored.
Beal had to work every time the ball touched his hands, fighting to generate foul calls the hard way by attacking the paint and crashing to the hardwood without hearing many whistles. Beal, who received the third-most all-star votes from his peers among Eastern Conference guards but was not named a starter, finished with 22 points on 8-for-22 shooting and was just 1 for 9 from beyond the arc. He made 5 of 8 from the foul line.
Beal’s teammates felt similar shooting pains. Jeff Green missed four of his first six three-pointer attempts, and Otto Porter Jr., still playing as a backup wing, misfired on all seven of his long-range looks and finished 3 for 14 from the field. As a team, the Wizards shot 15 for 42 from deep — taking more than twice as many as Golden State (7 for 20).
“When’s the last time you saw Otto miss wide-open threes?” Brooks asked after the game, still posing rhetorical questions to reporters. “And I thought all seven of them were wide open. He’s such a great shooter. He’s probably going to come back tomorrow [against the Orlando Magic] and make all seven of them. And Brad didn’t have his three-ball working tonight. That being said, we hung right in there, and we fought until the end. They just made a lot more opportunities for themselves in the paint.”
Only the Warriors, it seems, can complicate math and make two become greater than three. While the Wizards launched from the perimeter — the starters attempted 10 threes before the midway point of the opening quarter — Golden State waltzed into the paint for open layups.
Although the Wizards’ effort could not be disregarded, their defensive presence proved no match for the passes and purity of the Warriors’ offense. The fluidity resulted in Golden State making 50 of 88 attempts overall (56.8 percent).
The Warriors are so good that losing to them still provokes opponents to look at the bright side.
“It’s tough, you know,” Beal said, echoing Satoransky’s evaluation on defending the champs, “but the biggest thing is not getting overwhelmed. We did a good job of doing that. They made some tough shots. Steph made some tough ones. . . . We did a good job of containing everybody else.”
Well, almost everyone else. In just his third game back from a year of recovery following an Achilles’ tendon tear, big man DeMarcus Cousins played 24 minutes, and in the fourth quarter, he backed down Wizards center-by-default Sam Dekker for two interior buckets. But after the Wizards trimmed the lead to 108-106, the Warriors responded with nine straight points — free throws by Shaun Livingston and dunks by Alfonzo McKinnie and Kevon Looney, then Livingston’s six-footer through a Beal foul for a three-point play.
Golden State scored an astounding 70 points in the paint. Besides the effort from Durant and Curry, Cousins chipped in 17 points and three reserves poured in at least eight points apiece.
“The only person that was hurting us down low was [Cousins] a couple of times in the fourth and KD early on in some mid-post stuff,” Beal said. “For the most part, we kept everything contained. Effort was there. We did enough to win. I know that.”
While the Milwaukee Bucks (34-12) may have the best winning percentage in the NBA, the Warriors have the league’s most challenging lineup to defend.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to coach two Western Conference all-star teams,” Brooks said, “and now I get to coach against one.”
Note: On Thursday, the NBA granted the team’s request for the Disabled Player Exception. According to reports, the Wizards will receive $8.6 million to replace John Wall, who underwent season-ending surgery on his left heel earlier this month. If the Wizards use the exception, the signing would catapult the organization deeper into the luxury tax. With 14 players under contract, the Wizards are approximately $5.6 million over the luxury tax threshold.
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