The Washington Wizards fell Tuesday in a 96-88 loss to the visiting Toronto Raptors. DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 24 points (9-for-18), while Rudy Gay co-led with the same amount on far worse shooting (10-for-25). Rookie Wizards guard Bradley Beal led all scores with an efficient 25 points (9-for-19) in defeat, on a night in which Washington's offense seemed anything but efficient.
"It's going to be hard for us--the way our team is made up--to win games playing that way," said Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman, regarding Washington's 30-for-78 from the field shooting (.385). The duo of forward-guard Martell Webster and Beal sank all six of Washington's three-pointers on eleven attempts (.545). Their efforts--and some late defense by John Wall--helped the Wizards stay competitive in the fourth.
"We tried to keep making a push, and cutting it," continued Wittman, "but offensively we just never really got into a flow, a rhythm, all night long. We paid for it. There's a couple of games you can steal every year. There's the game leading into the All-Star break and the game leading out, and we played like that in both games." Washington's poor play--or poor defense--resulted in back-to-back losses to sub .500 teams in the Jose Calderon-led Detroit Pistons and the DeMar DeRozan infused Toronto Raptors. As such, Washington's chance at a postseason continues to get less probable.
The Wizards can still achieve a .500 record if they lose no more than four of their last thirty games, and Washington has three more against the Raptors coming up if they can muster revenge. You can guarantee Nene (7 points, 7 rebounds) will bounce back from this one and fuel a win or two before that season series is over. But can Wall recover from an atrocious 1-for-12 from the field night?
"I just didn't make shots," said Wall postgame, "they took the ball out of the passing lane. It's just one of those nights that we didn't make open shots and we missed a couple easy layups." Webster tried to amp Wall up with 5:38 left in the fourth, as Washington's franchise point guard prepped for two shots from the charity stripe (7-for-8), but the former Kentucky Wildcat had a funk that just wouldn't quit.
"That's our maestro man, he's going to have the ball in his hands ninety percent of the time," said Webster postgame. "He needs to understand that we all believe in him to knock down his jump shots, he's got to shoot them. Once he does it's game over for the league. You got a point guard that is lightning quick and demands people to sink in when he penetrates, and if they don't, if he can knock down that jump shot it's game over."
Washington's floor runner looked less confident with his jumper than frustrated in the final minute of play. He forced two steals in the last minute and change but Washington's offense went nowhere. First Wall attempted a corner to corner jump pass--two cardinal basketball sins at once--with 52.9 seconds left, the score 94-86, Raptors. Toronto intercepted the pass, which gave Wall his seventh turnover of the game. On the next Wizards possession, Wall decided to settle for a long jumper without as much as a single pass before he pulled up. He missed the shot, yet he continued to pressure the ball for his third and final steal.
Beal ended up with an awkward slam dunk after a hesitation pass by Martell Webster, perhaps because of a Verizon Center game clock malfunction which required a look back at the scores table for the game clock, or perhaps because Washington had no real chance of a comeback, and Webster was considering one final highlight for fans to take back as a parting gift.
"We have to blame ourselves," said Beal, who has now scored 20 or more points nine times this season. "We are the ones playing and we are the ones out there who have to make shots. We didn't put the ball in the hole and we didn't get stops. Yes, they did make a lot of tough shots, but at the end of the day I think we gave up. We just have to keep through the whole game, I mean the game is never over."
There are eight teams in the Eastern Conference at .500 or better right now, with the Milwaukee Bucks sitting at an even 26-26. It's certainly not over for Washington, but it's getting there. The Wizards are currently 1-1 with the Bucks, with a third and final meeting set for Wednesday, March 13. Washington will visit Toronto Monday, February 25, host the Raptors Sunday, March 31, then visit Toronto one final time on Wednesday, April 3.
"This is a tough team," said Beal, regarding the Raptors. "They're very physical, they're very athletic, big--big front line, big backcourt. We just have to keep playing hard. Rudy Gay and DeRozan made a lot of tough shots. That's not going to happen every night. They got the best of us tonight, we just have to get them the next time we play them."
The Wizards will host former Wizards center JaVale McGee and the Denver Nuggets Friday (7:00 p.m. ET, CSN) then the Houston Rockets on Saturday (7:00 p.m. ET, CSN). Washington will visit Toronto on Monday for their second of four (7:00 p.m. ET, CSN).