Get­ting healthier, but de­fense is still hurt­ing

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Can­dace Buck­ner

IN­DI­ANAPO­LIS — The Wash­ing­ton Wizards might never reach full strength this sea­son, given the un­cer­tainty of John Wall’s re­turn from his Achilles’ in­jury. Wed­nes­day night, how­ever, the Wizards’ ros­ter was their most ro­bust to date — with a vet­eran scorer ac­ti­vated and the 10-deep ro­ta­tion they pro­jected in the pre­sea­son.

And even af­ter get­ting a strong of­fen­sive night from their fran­chise star, the Wizards still lost 121-106 to the In­di­ana Pac­ers.

The Wizards leaned into the ver­sion of them­selves that strug­gles with ba­sic de­fen­sive prin­ci­ples. Although the Pac­ers at­tempt more midrange jumpers than most teams, Wash­ing­ton al­lowed them to tee off from be­yond the three-point arc.

“[Doug] McDer­mott,” coach Scott Brooks said, sin­gling out the In­di­ana role player whomade4of 6 threes en route to19 points off the bench. “We prob­a­bly made three or four dif­fer­ent mis­takes on him for wide open threes.”

De­spite In­di­ana’s aver­sion to draw­ing fouls, the Wizards rolled out the wel­come mat at the free-throw line.

“We were just not be­ing smart,” rookie Rui Hachimura said. “We were just giv­ing free throws. We got to fix that.”

And even with the Pac­ers play­ing on the se­cond night of a back-to-back af­ter trav­el­ing from Char­lotte, the Wizards (2-5) looked like the team with the heavy legs, dig­ging them­selves a 25-point deficit.

“It was just a point we couldn’t get stops,” Bradley Beal said about the Pac­ers’ 44-point se­cond quar­ter.

In a sense, the 2019-20 Wizards made their de­but in In­di­anapo­lis. All the play­ers who were pro­jected to have a role in the out­come of the sea­son were healthy and ac­tive for the first time. Still, it wasn’t enough.

Beal, the team’s lead­ing man in as­sists, fa­vored scor­ing over fa­cil­i­ta­tion. He led the Wizards with 30 points, in­clud­ing 21 in the first half, and fin­ished with five as­sists. The Wizards’ start­ing front­court of Hachimura and Isaac Bonga went score­less. Hachimura pulled down eight re­bounds but missed his five shot at­tempts and fin­ished as a mi­nus-19 for the game.

Even so, scor­ing wasn’t ex­actly the is­sue. Hold­ing on to pos­ses­sions proved to be more dif­fi­cult than usual.

Through three quar­ters, the Wizards com­piled 17 as­sists against 15 turnovers.

“We want to play with pace, but in some spots we got play­ing too fast,” CJ Miles said. “Some spots, we were just sloppy, be­ing lazy. Not play­ing ag­gres­sive enough and mak­ing plays.”

De­spite sloppy of­fense and 38.9% shoot­ing, Wash­ing­ton trimmed the lead sev­eral times in the fourth quar­ter. Each time, In­di­ana re­sponded. Whether it was Aaron Hol­l­i­day hit­ting con­sec­u­tive three-point­ers or cen­ter Do­man­tas Sabo­nis (13 points, 17 re­bounds) bul­ly­ing his way in the paint, the Pac­ers (4-4) kept a firm grip.

In­di­ana had crafted an iden­tity as a midrange shoot­ing team, at­tempt­ing the se­cond-most shots in the league from that dis­tance at 18.9. But against the Wizards, the Pac­ers stepped back and drilled 12 three-point­ers.

The Pac­ers also en­tered last in free throw at­tempts and went to the foul line only seven times dur­ing its Tues­day night loss to the Char­lotte Hor­nets. Against the Wizards, they were 21 for 26 at the line.

De­spite the for­wards’ lack of pro­duc­tion, the Wizards still had five play­ers in dou­ble fig­ures, in­clud­ing an­other strong night from Thomas Bryant (20 points, 11 re­bounds).

Be­fore the sea­son, deep might not have been the word most peo­ple would have used to de­scribe the young Wizards. But af­ter seven games, they have nine play­ers av­er­ag­ing dou­ble fig­ures and just wel­comed back Jor­dan McRae, who missed the pre­vi­ous four games fol­low­ing surgery to re­pair a frac­ture in his right ring fin­ger. McRae’s re­turn — as well as the re­cent sea­son de­buts of Troy Brown Jr. and Miles — gives the Wizards an­other vet­eran wing player with scor­ing abil­ity. That could be­come a good prob­lem to have — if the Wizards can jell with haste.

“We’re like a brand new team and a cou­ple guys just came back and started play­ing. So we still don’t know how we’re play­ing,” Hachimura said. “Ev­ery­body can score. Ev­ery­body can [play] de­fense. We got to stick to­gether.

“We’re not play­ing to­gether right now, ob­vi­ously. I can see and I can feel when I play.”

Although Wall has moved well dur­ing his in­di­vid­ual work­outs, he still might not re­turn to play in his 10th sea­son. So this is how the team could look go­ing for­ward. Mi­nus Ian Mahinmi (Achilles’), the Wizards ap­peared as healthy as they will get this sea­son. Against the Pac­ers, it didn’t mat­ter.

DARRON CUM­MINGS/AP

The Wizards’ C.J. Miles tries to stop In­di­ana’s Doug McDer­mott on Wed­nes­day. De­fense has been a weak spot for Wash­ing­ton thus far.

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