In quintessential preseason fashion, the most iconic highlight was not an alley-oop, not a dunk, not a three-pointer. No, the trending topic after Washington’s first game was nothing more than a boop. A doink. A kerplop, at best.
Marcus Morris hits his opponent in the head with the ball and gets ejected pic.twitter.com/RrfXBWGywO— NBA RETWEET (@RTNBA) October 8, 2019
Knicks forward Marcus Morris was indeed ejected for this horrific act of violence, but somehow the game went on as expected. Perhaps the above play encapsulates the quirky nihilism of preseason NBA basketball more than any other, but there was still plenty to learn from the injury-plagued Wizards’ first foray of the season, a 104-99 loss to the New York Knicks.
It was a spirited effort for the Wizards, who started the game without expected starters Troy Brown Jr. or Isaiah Thomas and quickly fell behind by double digits in the first quarter.
It was an ugly initial frame for the Wizards on the offensive end — they managed just 16 points and could hardly muster a score at all once Bradley Beal and Ish Smith left the game. The Wiz starters held up just fine, playing the Knicks to a draw, but the bench unit was blasted by a 16-5 Knicks run that led to a 27-16 lead for New York after one.
Interestingly, the only player to look good throughout the first quarter was first-time player and first-time starter Rui Hachimura. Hachimura kicked off his first career appearance at the Cap One with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting, plus 4 rebounds and 2 assists to boot. He looked calm and collected throughout the night, living up to his reputation as a smooth scorer (and occasionally showing some explosion as well).
The rest of the first half passed by mostly without event. Washington began the second half facing a 15-point deficit, down 57-42. That’s when the aforementioned bop occurred.
Clearly, Morris’s vicious flagrant foul was exactly the spark of motivation Washington needed — following the violation, the Wizards ripped off an 18-3 run to tie the game at 60, all without Bradley Beal on the floor. The run included furious dunks by Hachimura and Jordan McRae and was capped off by an and-one layup from Justin Robinson.
The Wizards starters played scarce minutes, if any, the rest of the way, but the backups put together a solid effort to keep it close. With the Wizards still trailing by a dozen in the final few minutes, Moritz Wagner, Garrison Matthews and others brought the game back as close as two points in the final minutes before the Knicks sealed it up with free throws for the 104-99 win.
First Answers to Rotation Questions
Interspersed betwixt the mediocre offensive displays by the Wizards were some interesting rotation choices by coach Scott Brooks that could shed some light on how things will go during the real season.
Notably, Hachimura was the day-one starter at power forward. This could just be a play for the home fans during the preseason, as most expected Davis Bertans to begin the season in that starting spot. It’s worth watching whether Hachimura continues to start at the four moving forward, particularly given his strong first performance.
Elsewhere, two back-up spots were established relatively early. Both Justin Robinson and Mo Wagner (who ended with a team-high 16 points) were among the first substitutes to enter the game in the first quarter, backing up Smith and Thomas Bryant respectively. With Isaiah Thomas and Ian Mahinmi out due to injury, it’s not clear whether those bench decisions will hold up in the regular season. But for at least the rest of the preseason, it seems we’ll be seeing a lot of both Robinson and Wagner.
Lastly, at one point in the second half, the Wizards played an ultra-big lineup with Bertans at the three, Wagner at the four and Bryant at the five. That line-up would almost certainly struggle with spacing and wing defense, but perhaps there’s something about it if Brooks is interested in pursuing for the future.
Next Up: The Wizards will continue their preseason slate by hosting the Guangzhou Long-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Eastern Time.