Getting healthier, but defense is still hurting
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.
The Wizards’ C.J. Miles tries to stop Indiana’s Doug McDermott on Wednesday. Defense has been a weak spot for Washington thus far.