The Washington Wizards (0-4) hit the ground running Friday night with a 12-0 start led by none other than Bradley Beal, but the Milwaukee Bucks (3-1) exhausted Washington’s inconsistent defense, and sent the Wizards on their flight to Indiana with a 101-91 loss and a winless record.
Beal looked sharp, despite being matched against Monta Ellis. He scored a career-high 22 points and demonstrated the aggressiveness he otherwise lacked in the Wizards’ previous three games.
But, despite Beal’s delivery, the Wizards failed to capitalize on key opportunities and even passed on seemingly open shots on numerous occasions.
“I tell our guys every day, ‘If you turn down an open shot in this league, the next shot you take is going to be covered, I guarantee you,’” said Wizards head coach Randy Wittman after the game. “I thought we did that a couple times. We just got to keep plugging, keep emphasizing the positives.”
It took the Bucks just over three minutes to tie the game at 14 points apiece in the first quarter. However, the Wizards continued to carry some momentum to keep within five.
Trailing 21-16, Emeka Okafor jammed one and Trevor Ariza picked up a board, allowing Chris Singleton to sink a long jumper to bring the Wizards back within one. The Wizards and Bucks would go on to exchange the lead five more times before the Bucks finished the quarter with a 30-28 lead, thanks to a Beno Udrih jumper.
In the second quarter, the Wizards managed just 19 points and shot 35 percent from the floor as the Bucks held all but Jordan Crawford to less than five points in the period. The Wizards handed the Bucks seven turnovers in the quarter, and Milwaukee made the most of their chances in time to enter the half with a 56-47 lead.
The start of the second half looked very much like the first for the Wizards. Beal sparked a 12-4 run with a long jumper and the Trevors teamed up for an alley oop sunk by Booker, which got a large portion of the otherwise quiet crowd back on its feet. Beal’s one-handed dunk, a jumper by A.J. Price and a three-pointer from Ariza allowed the Wizards to tie it yet again, this time at 62 apiece.
With 20 seconds left in the third quarter, Jan Vesely pulled through with a hook shot to keep things tied, 72-72. As quickly as he dealt for the Wizards, however, he returned the favor to the Bucks. His foul on Udoh, allowed Udoh to sink a jumper and one to give the Bucks a 75-72 lead.
Things got ugly for the Wizards at a quicker pace in the fourth quarter. The Bucks jumped ahead to an 85-72 lead before the Wizards responded, but Milwaukee clearly maintained control of the game throughout. When there weren’t open windows for the Bucks, they outran the Wizards’ defense and made opportunities themselves. Marquis Daniels, Udrih, Brandon Jennings and Ellis all managed steals against Washington in the fourth quarter.
The Wizards certainly showed some fight. With just under six minutes left in the game, Booker wowed the Bucks with a one-handed driving dunk off a bad pass by Larry Sanders, trimming Milwaukee’s lead to 85-78. As was the case throughout the night, however, the Bucks even bested that performance – as Sanders one-upped Booker just over 30 seconds later with a one-handed jam of his own.
But, the Wizards wouldn’t go down without a fight – figuratively and nearly literally. The Bucks had a commanding 99-90 lead with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game when Beal managed a flagrant foul on Ellis. Jennings stepped in to defend his teammate – by shoving Beal after the whistle – and both Jennings and Beal were ejected from the game. On free throws by Price and Ellis, the Bucks sealed their win with a 101-91 lead at the buzzer.
After the game, Beal was asked if the Wizards were beginning to feel discouraged.
“That is one thing we most definitely try to avoid,” Beal asserted. “I mean, once we get that, we hang our heads low, then we come out sluggish, and then teams really start beating us. And then, we just get into the, ‘I don’t care anymore’ mode.
“We’re still strong,” he added. “We’ve still got 70-plus games left. I think we’re right there. It’s a long season.”
The Wizards are back on the road again Saturday night to face the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
In order to avoid inching any closer to repeating last year’s 0-8 record at the start of the season, the Wizards will need to show that they not only can attack early on but – more importantly – with consistency throughout the game.