The Washington Wizards lost to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night 141-136 despite Bradley Beal scoring a career high 60 points, tying the Wizards franchise record. Beal’s scoring explosion was not enough to stop a well-rounded scoring effort from the 76ers that saw six players score in double figures, including 38 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid.
The Wizards trailed by as many as 21 points in the third quarter, but Beal slowly clawed them back into the game with a ridiculous streak of shot making. He displayed a diverse shot portfolio of catch-and-shoot threes, pull-ups from midrange and straight line drives. With 57 points at the end of the third quarter, he conceivably had a shot at approaching Kobe Bryant’s 81 points from 2006, or at the very least Devin Booker’s 70 from 2017. The Wizards tied the game at 119 with Beal on the bench to start the quarter with some hot shooting from Davis Bertans, who finished with 17. Beal was unable to continue hitting shots at the ferocious rate he had been however, and 11 straight points from Joel Embiid towards the end of the fourth quarter eventually put the lead out of reach to end the game.
A Familiar Scenario
High scoring nights and losing games is a familiar situation for Beal, who is 1-10 in games over the last two seasons in which he scores at least 40 points. He is not meaninglessly stuffing the box score either, he is taking good shots and not forcing things, as 77.8 percent of his 3-pointers this season have been assisted. Beal slowing down to just three points in the third quarter was largely a product of him having the basketball IQ and wherewithal to pass out of the double teams the 76ers were throwing at him.
The loss drops the Wizards to 2-6, and is yet another example of their inability to close out games. Their calling card this season has been falling behind early, scraping and clawing to make it a close game in the third and fourth quarters, and then failing to win the game towards the end due to fatigue from the comeback effort.
The Defensive Struggles Continue
The defensive struggles also continued for the Wizards. The 141 points the 76ers scored was the third highest total by a single team this season. They especially failed at keeping their opponent away from the charity stripe, something that has been a struggle all season so far. The 76ers shot 33 free throws. They also allowed the 76ers to shoot a blistering 18 of 29 (62.1 percent) on 3-pointers, and shooting guard Seth Curry had 15 points in a row in the first quarter, with all of them coming on 3 pointers.
The Wizards look undisciplined and lazy on defense. It is as if many of the players cannot decide between defending the paint or running shooters off the line, instead of just trying hard enough to do both. Many of the 76ers’ points came without opposition underneath the basket due to late rotations or poor positioning, and when players are in the right place, they often aren’t able to contest without fouling. Even when the Wizards would pack the paint to stop the Ben Simmons/ Embiid pick and roll, the 76ers had somebody on the kick out wide open for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.
Another point of interest is the Wizards’ utilization of Deni Avdija. Avdija was praised for his basketball IQ and ability as a passer coming into the draft. One of the main criticisms of his skillset was his poor 3-point shooting percentages in the Israeli League. His skillset is more befitting of a point forward than a 3-and-D player, which is how Wizards’ head coach Scott Brooks has used him thus far. He has also played under 20 minutes the last two games after playing over 20 in five of the Wizards first six games. It is hard to discern why that is, as Avdija is not a poor defender as many rookies are. He has a positive defensive box plus minus and has shown himself to be a strong team defender despite not being an elite athlete.
Watching Avdija play, it is clear that he is a talented creator and facilitator, but he gets almost no touches in such a role and plays almost exclusively away from the ball. Allowing Avdija to operate as a secondary playmaker from the elbow would add another wrinkle to the Wizards’ offense, and might help them sustain their scoring throughout a game.
Change is Needed
One can only imagine the frustration that Beal must be feeling at this point. Adding Russell Westbrook has helped take some of the offensive load off of Beal, who had a solid game. He posted 20 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, three 3-pointers, three steals, but missed some key free throws towards the end of the game and took an ill-advised 3-point attempt when the game was still in reach. His poor shooting ability makes him a volatile option in clutch situations, as it is easy to take away his scoring when you can pack the lane and dare him to shoot down the stretch. He has also struggled from the free throw line, shooting just 63.6 percent so far this season. Westbrook has certainly added value, but has not done much to remedy Washington’s defensive struggles and has notable shortcomings on offense as a somewhat one-dimensional threat.
The bottom line is, something needs to change for the Wizards sooner rather than later. General Manager Tommy Sheppard likely needs to trade some of their young assets such as Troy Brown Jr. or Rui Hachimura to create a package for a defensive-minded center such as the Indiana Pacers’ Myles Turner. Otherwise, it is hard to see much changing as the season progresses. After seeing it utilized for over a season now, it is apparent that the Wizards strategy of trying to outgun their opponents is ineffective. Barring a major change in personnel, the Wizards’ struggles will likely continue, and perhaps worsen as the losses pile up and team morale is damaged. Here’s to hoping the Wizards’ front office can pull something off and get the season on the right track.
All stats courtesy Basketball-Reference and ESPN
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