Their caution proved prescient Tuesday night at Capital One Arena, where the Wizards fell, 132-121, to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The script was similar to Sunday’s thriller, but this time the Wizards (4-13) didn’t have the juice to close the deal. They started molasses-slow, falling behind by 21 points in the first quarter, then got within four with less than four minutes to play after a barrage of three-pointers and a few key misses by the Trail Blazers (11-9).
But the Wizards’ defense couldn’t hold Damian Lillard, and on the offensive end Washington went cold and missed five shots in the final 3:35.
“You can’t get down 20 points and expect a comeback,” Brooks said. “We did it once; we almost did it tonight . . . but we can’t get down by 20 points to start games. It just takes a lot out of you. It takes a lot out of you when you’re trying to get back into game shape. We were just slow tonight, just sluggish for whatever reason.”
Beal led all scorers with 37 points as he set yet another record. In scoring at least 25 points in all 16 games he has played this year, the all-star guard tied Michael Jordan in 1988-89 for the longest streak to begin a season since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976. He ended up on the sideline for the final seconds anyway, the game long decided by that point.
“We can’t beat a good team in Brooklyn and come out, lay an egg tonight,” he said. “Consistency has been our Achilles’ heel.”
Beal, at least, wasn’t alone in his productive outing. Rui Hachimura finally found his legs in his third game back after exiting the league’s coronavirus protocols; he scored 24 points while shooting 10 for 12 from the field. Deni Avdija also had his best game since returning, scoring 13 points in 23 minutes. Brooks said before the game that neither young player is at full strength.
Westbrook had his fifth triple-double with 17 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, but he couldn’t re-create the verve he brought Sunday that spurred his team to a shocking win.
For Portland, Lillard led six scorers in double figures with 32 points, and Gary Trent Jr. had 26.
After a rocky first half, the Wizards again were on fire late in the fourth quarter, splashing three three-pointers — one each from Hachimura, Davis Bertans and Avdija — but they simply traded baskets with Portland, only getting a reprieve when Rodney Hood missed. It was a microcosm of the entire game — and in many ways, the entire season — with defense letting down the Wizards again.
Bertans, unlike Hachimura, has yet to rediscover his rhythm. The sharpshooter went 2 for 10 from the three-point line, coming up short much of the time, for six points as his season-long struggles continued. Bertans is shooting a career-low 32 percent from beyond the arc.
Portland should have been dragging after arriving in Washington on the tail end of a rough stretch. The Trail Blazers were on the second night of a back-to-back, had lost three of their previous four games and are chugging along without three key players, all of whom have fractures in various appendages — guard CJ McCollum (foot) and big men Jusuf Nurkic (wrist) and Zach Collins (ankle).
“They got their butts kicked last night by Milwaukee,” Beal said, “and they came in tonight with a different mind-set out the gate.”
Yet another sloppy opening by the Wizards gave Portland license to glide. The Trail Blazers raced to a 40-19 lead near the end of the first quarter thanks to shoddy defense and seven turnovers by Washington. Westbrook and Beal got going later in the half, combining for 22 points and leading a much sharper offense — the Wizards shot 65 percent from the field in the second quarter, and Beal didn’t miss from three — that didn’t commit a single turnover.