Wizards Lose 108-100 to Denver: Let's Play The Blame Game | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Wizards Lose 108-100 to Denver: Let’s Play The Blame Game

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Updated: March 24, 2018

A slight disparity in urgency was to be expected going into last night’s game between the Wizards and Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets were in ninth place in the Western Conference playoff standings, just two games behind the Utah Jazz with 10 games left in the season. A loss would have put them one step closer to an early summer vacation while a win would put them closer to the playoffs. Even then, they would need Utah, Minnesota and San Antonio to do some losing as well. That’s the very definition of desperation.

Barring a losing streak of epic proportions, the Wizards (whose magic number to clinch remains at two) are a virtual lock to make the playoffs. Sure, they would like to get a higher seed, as Markieff Morris alluded to after the game, and yes, it would be helpful if they had a bit of momentum heading into the NBA’s so-called second season, but they know they are in the playoffs and they also know the return of their best player is right around the corner.

But during the Wizards’ 108-100 home loss to the Nuggets on Friday, the disparity in energy, urgency and sustained effort was quite glaring from both the players and the coaches. Not everyone was eating, the substitution patterns were baffling, and, frankly, Phil Chenier and his retired jersey deserved much better. And there was plenty of blame to go around.

Scott Brooks, who after the game pinned the loss on a lack of urgency, a lack of offense and too many turnovers, did not do his team any favors with his erratic substitution patterns.

With 7:16 left in the second quarter, he pulled Ramon Sessions (who entered for Tomas Satoransky in the first half) out of the game, which meant Bradley Beal was running the point. Initially the move looked smart when the Wizards shrunk Denver’s lead from seven to four points. Then the offense went from fluid to stagnant, and lazy close-outs led to three consecutive 3-point shots from the Nuggets. Washington’s deficit ballooned from four to 13 points.

Brooks finally checked Sato back into the game with 3:21 left in the half, and the Wizards promptly went on a 5-0 run with him at the point guard. Then, Coach Brooks opted to have Beal be the primary ball-handler even with Sato on the floor. Beal turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions and Denver’s lead was back at 12 points.

That same scenario happened in the fourth quarter when the Wizards pulled within two points with Sato in the game, but then Brooks subbed him out so that Gortat could come in and guard Jokic. The Nuggets lead went up to five points with a little over a minute left and Brooks called timeout and put Sato back in the game . . . but at that point, it was too late to salvage the game. Brooks said in that specific situation, he wanted to keep Oubre and Morris in the game since they were playing well, so Sato was the odd man out. He also implied that it was a defense-related decision, which was baffling considering earlier in the same presser, he attributed the Wizards’ loss to the lack of continuity on offense.

It feels cruel to assign any blame for the loss to Beal given how well he’s carried this Wall-less team for the majority of this calendar year—especially since he scored 24 points to go along with five assists. But he turned the ball over four times, he was not as tight with his dribble as he’s been all season, and at times he fell in love with his individual game and forgot about the importance of ball movement and cutting. Maybe all the minutes he’s been playing in Wall’s absence (he played another 39 last night) is getting to him, and maybe he felt an added burden to be a play-maker when Satoransky was out of the game. Whatever the case, on Friday, he lacked that extra gear in key moments, and perhaps that’s why he didn’t speak to the media after the game.

Beal, Sessions, Satoranksy, and the rest of the Wizards who spent time trying to defend the Nuggets’ perimeter players, also played a part in the Washington’s demise. Jamal Murray, Will Barton and even Devin Harris either had open shots or an open door into the lane, where they would reward mainly Nikola Jokic with easy baskets. Barton scored most of his 14 fourth-quarter points at the expense of Beal and Oubre, who simply did not have the answer or the necessary effort.

If there is such a thing as a silver lining in a late-March loss, it would be the Wizards’ play in the third quarter. They outscored the Nuggets 33-23, and turned a 13-point deficit into a one-point lead, with everybody getting a chance to eat. Gortat had four points and two assists, Satoransky went scoreless but tallied three assists, Beal hit three 3-pointers, and Porter and Morris combined for 17 points. The ball was moving, the Wizards shot 63 percent and the crowd rewarded the home team by standing and cheering with every made shot. Sadly, that was the only quarter the Wizards demonstrated that they could perform consistently.

So what now? The Wizards were a stellar 30-11 at home last year and that dominance was a source of pride headed into the playoffs. Right now they are 20-16 with six home games left, the worst record among playoff teams. Scott Brooks has yet to achieve any level of comfort with his point guard rotations, let alone his rotations overall, and the Wizards are currently the 6-seed in the East, which would earn them a first-round matchup with the reigning Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Beal has played more games and minutes than he has in his career, John Wall and his availability are still uncertain, and teams like Philadelphia, Indiana and even the aforementioned re-tooled Cavs are looking better, stronger and faster than Washington.

Wall’s inevitable return could boost the team’s spirits and catapult them into contention, which would make last night’s loss and the overall uneven play as of late a moot point. Or this loss could be a precursor to the frustration the Wizards will endure over the last 10 games of the regular season and possibly into the postseason where an early exit is not off the table. Is this knee-jerk paranoia or are there legitimate reasons for the Wizards to be nervous?

As Bob Dylan would say, “The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.