The Washington Wizards’ preseason started in earnest Friday night. Although they broke a sweat earlier in the week against a Chinese Basketball Association opponent, the team spent the next three days on the practice floor.
The Monday night exhibition coupled with the long break before returning to the court meant the Wizards were the last team to face an NBA opponent in the preseason. With the New York Knicks in town, Washington performed just fine against its peers in a 104-100 win.
In his first preseason game, Wizards point guard John Wall played as a lightning bolt. If Wall had to battle boredom through two weeks of practices without game action, he didn’t show it. In the first quarter, Wall lost Knicks forward Michael Beasley with a simple crossover and threw down a one-handed dunk.
Through nearly 24 minutes, Wall sped to the rim for most of his 19 points and added six assists. Bradley Beal finished with 13 points, and Otto Porter Jr. collected seven points and seven rebounds.
More observations from the night:
● Through the first half, the Wizards gave quality minutes to the three most likely options to start at power forward in Markieff Morris’s injury absence. For the second straight game, Jason Smith started in the spot. Later in the first quarter, Mike Scott checked in and played through the second quarter, but the Wizards closed the half with Kelly Oubre Jr. playing the small forward role and Porter at the four.
Smith did not look dynamic in his opening six-minute stint as a stretch four. Late last season, Smith compiled a highlight reel filled with dunks and spot-up threes, but Friday his first shot attempt was blocked, and he missed all four attempts from the arc.
The Wizards have emphasized correcting defensive mistakes this preseason, but midway through the first quarter Smith mistimed his jump for a defensive rebound. The blown rebound allowed the smaller Beasley to control the ball and score.
Scott played most of his 12 minutes in the first half with reserves. However, when Wall checked in with 7:44 remaining in the second quarter, Washington got a glimpse of how Scott can complete the starting unit.
With Wall back on the floor, it didn’t take long for the Wizards to run one of their go-to plays. Wall had Scott standing behind the right arc and three-point specialist Jodie Meeks on the other, and he sent a pass to Scott for the open three. The play showed the available options if Scott indeed becomes the starter and is paired opposite Porter, another knockdown shooter. After a slow start, Scott tallied 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including a pair of threes on three attempts.
As for Oubre, though the 21-year-old is entering his third season, his minutes with the starters could still be an issue until he proves he can be a consistent shooter.
Near the end of the half, Porter and Beal bunched near the right side while Wall operated from the left; Oubre stood closest to his point guard and waited in the corner. Instead of looking at Oubre, a 28.7 percent three-point shooter last season, Wall fired an ill-advised cross-court pass to Porter. Beasley intercepted the pass, and the turnover, Wall’s fourth of the half, led to a three-point play for Knicks center Enes Kanter.
● The Wizards are one of the last remaining teams who play three centers (Marcin Gortat, Ian Mahinmi and Smith), but New York has a legitimate big man of its own with Kanter, a 6-foot-11 physical and skilled center.
Even with the additional bodies, Washington did little to stop Kanter.
Through the first half, Kanter scored on tip-ins and close-range looks and drew fouls on the Wizards’ bigs. Mahinmi quickly learned the difficulty of keeping Kanter off the block, picking up a foul on his first defensive possession after checking into the game in the first quarter.
Kanter finished the half with 14 points (6-of-9 shooting) and though Gortat scored efficiently on limited looks (six points on 3-of-6 shooting), he picked up four fouls.
● The five preseason games may seem trivial but will benefit a veteran like Mahinmi.
Plagued by injuries last season, Mahinmi has not logged significant game minutes with his teammates since the end of the 2016-17 regular season. Even Mahinmi’s appearance in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Boston Celtics came in brief spurts as he was recovering from a calf injury. This helps explain Mahinmi’s rust.
Through the first half, Mahinmi missed rebounds, bobbled a gift-wrapped Oubre pass under the rim and checked out with three fouls in less than nine minutes. For the game, Mahinmi played nearly 17 minutes and finished with six points and four rebounds.