You know it’s bad when the Wizards are relying on their opponents to offer some semblance of leadership.
Despite a game filled with dozens of defensive lapses, bricked shots and missed opportunities, there was perhaps no moment more sobering for Washington fans than what seemed to be an impassioned plea from former Wizard Garrett Temple to John Wall and Bradley Beal after the Wizards’ 107-95 road loss in Memphis on Tuesday night—a loss which dropped Washington to a tie for the league’s worst record at 1-6 on the year.
Would love to hear what Garrett Temple said to Bradley Beal and John Wall. Beal's reaction straight up looks like, "shit I don't know" as if Temp asked what is wrong with the Wizards. pic.twitter.com/ChAEYe1MgZ— HoopDistrict (@HoopDistrictDC) October 31, 2018
Temple in many ways represents the exact kind of player who has always brought out the best in the Wall-Beal era Wizards—a veteran leader who was capable of commanding universal respect in the locker room and giving maximum effort on the court at all times. When one of Washington’s young stars needed to be kept in check, Temple and other veterans like Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, and Paul Pierce always seemed to bring the team back to solid ground.
One thing those names all have in common: None of them play for the Wizards anymore.
It’s not yet clear what exactly Temple said to the Wizards’ star backcourt after the game, but what was perfectly evident is that these Wizards are simply not good enough right now to compete with even the league’s worst teams.
Early in the game, the Wizards looked more organized than they did against the Kings and Clippers just days before. The Wizards rebounded and defended fairly well from the jump, helping them run out to a 9-3 lead on some easy transition buckets.
Meanwhile, Memphis was frigid from the field to open the game, shooting 4-of-16 from the field over the first 8 minutes on their way to an 18-11 deficit. One would hope that the Wizards could have greatly extended their lead during this time, but some unfortunate misses kept things within reach for Memphis.
The gap closed over the final few minutes of the first quarter, but Kelly Oubre Jr. and Jason Smith provided just enough offense for Washington to hold a two-point lead at the end of the first, 24-22.
To open the second quarter, Scott Brooks experimented once again with the intriguing Otto Porter Jr.-led bench unit, which was moderately effective and extended the lead to four with around 9 minutes left in the half. The wheels came off a bit when the starters re-entered the game though—Washington mixed an array of open jumpers with a series of confounding turnovers to gift Memphis a small lead as the second quarter wound down.
In fact, Washington turned it over 13 times in the first half, mostly from careless passes and loose handles. Wall struggled in particular to control the rock—he alone tallied six first-half turnovers, many of which seemed to come from trying to do too much on his own. At the end of two periods, Memphis led the ugly affair by one point, 46-45.
Unfortunately for the Wizards, the Grizzlies carried their positive momentum into the start of the second half with an 18-1 run to open the third quarter. At every phase of the stretch, it was evident the Grizzlies were just a better coached team giving considerably more effort on both ends. Washington’s starters were embarrassed most notably by former Wizards Temple and Shelvin Mack during the run.
Things were on the brink of falling completely apart when Oubre Jr. re-entered the game. The Wave Papi immediately injected life back into Washington, propelling them at the basket and on the boards. Oubre Jr.’s strong run of play to begin the season continued with this latest display of force, dragging the Wizards back within six after Beal hit a running two-point jumper at the third quarter buzzer.
In the fourth, the Wizards cut the lead to four, largely due to excellent play on both ends that came with Wall on the bench. Beal and Oubre Jr. were starting to get the offense going, and the defensive effort rose with it. Yet almost immediately upon Wall’s return to the game, the team quickly gave up an 8-0 Memphis run on the exact sort of lazy defensive plays that got them into the mess in the first place.
This was endlessly frustrating—in the second half, Wall was lackadaisical on defense and slow on offense, and the team was clearly better off with him out of the game. Brooks failed to recognize that. Between that and leaving Rivers in the game a few minutes too long, it felt like the Wizards’ best line-up of the night didn’t even get a chance to finish their comeback.
From there, the game proceeded in typical Wizards fashion. A missed assignment here, a botched pass there, and Memphis comfortably closed out the game to win by 12.
John Wall Can’t Blame His Teammates Tonight
The Wizards turned the ball over 20 times against Memphis, the team’s season-high. Those struggles came as no huge surprise given that Memphis ranks among the best teams in the league at forcing miscues, but it was disappointing nonetheless, particularly from Wall.
Wall gave his usual scoring effort tonight, and shot decently from the field. But his minus-14 and nine turnovers paint a more accurate picture of the night—he was plainly bad and really hurt the team’s efforts to come back in the second half. The offense just looked listless with Wall on the court. Memphis either cleanly switched or sprinted through the Wizards screens, and there was no effective counter from the road team. Wall drove erratically several times, leaving himself off-balance and with nobody to pass to but the opposition.
It was his worst effort in some time, and the Wizards may have won the game if Scott Brooks had sat his star for the final stretch.
With the way Wall has played tonight, you can make a good argument for this. https://t.co/5nZvIZ6r5e— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) October 31, 2018
A Silver Lining On The Boards
Had the Wizards been out-rebounded by double digits tonight, they would have tied the NBA record for most consecutive games in that category. However, they were out-rebounded by just one, 37-38, against Memphis. Perhaps this would be encouraging, but they went and lost the game anyway.
What Happens Now?
Put it this way: If the Wizards aren’t good enough to beat Sacramento or Memphis, who are they good enough to beat?
Sure, those teams have played well to start the year, with both having winning records and acceptable point differentials. But there simply isn’t the same amount of talent on those teams. The Wizards need to be winning these games.
It sounds like a broken record because it is; every year, the Wizards need to be reminded to give maximum effort every night. And as the team continues to drop games to the league’s least-talented teams, it may be time to wonder whether Washington is one of them.
Next up: The Wizards (1-6) will have a few days off before playing Oklahoma City (2-4) at home on Friday night.