Washington Wizards: Winnable game vs. Orlando Magic slips away, 130-120

Washington Wizards Bradley Beal. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Washington Wizards Bradley Beal. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

The Washington Wizards are off to a slow start to the 2020-21 season. After losing to the Orlando Magic, 130-120, they are still winless.

The Washington Wizards are now 0-2 after losing to the Orlando Magic in the second game of the season, 130-120. It was a much tougher loss to stomach than the opening-night defeat in Philadelphia. While that loss came to a conference contender and had more than a few bright spots, this loss was a frustrating one. The Wizards have no one but themselves to blame.

0-2 is not the exciting start to a new era that the Washington Wizards were hoping for. After acquiring Russell Westbrook in the offseason and officially handing the franchise keys over to Bradley Beal, the plan was to end the two-season playoff drought. Two games into the new season, they’re trending in the wrong direction.

On the one hand, Russell Westbrook is living up to his billing — he had another triple-double (15 points, 15 rebounds, 12 assists) but shot below a lowly 31 percent from the field after shooting 41 percent in the opener. Plus, he had five turnovers to bring his season total to 11 in just two games.

Bradley Beal is also picking up right where he left off last season and has now had at least 30 points for each of the first two games of the season. It’s the first time he’s done such a thing in his career. But even his game-high 39 points couldn’t deliver a victory vs. Orlando. Just like his game-high 31 didn’t help beat the 76ers.

Beal’s big numbers that only end up in defeat were supposed to be a thing of the past. So far, they’re all too real again this season.

The Washington Wizards are still winless after dropping a winnable game to the Orlando Magic.

So what went wrong? Missing 13 free throws certainly doesn’t help. Beyond that, the obvious issue was defense. As has been the norm for a while now in Washington, the Wizards struggled to keep the Magic from scoring. Last season, the Magic were 24th in the NBA in points per game. They averaged just 107.3 points per 48 minutes. After making no major offseason changes and running it back in 2020-21 with the same pieces, they hung 130 on the Wizards with ease.

Familiar Wizards killers Markelle Fultz (21 points, seven assists, four rebounds) and Terrence Ross (25 points) did their damage, but Nikola Vucevic simply overpowered the Wizards down low, finishing with 22 points and 17 rebounds. Joel Embiid had a similarly devastating 29 points and 14 rebounds in the opening loss to the 76ers. Through two games, starting centers are averaging 25.5 points and 15.5 rebounds per game vs. the Wizards. Yikes.

And then there’s the issue of the rotations. Maybe it has to do with Rui Hachimura‘s conjunctivitis injury, or maybe Davis Bertans not being in shape affects how Scott Brooks allocates minutes, but things didn’t make much sense vs. the Magic.

Once again, Scott Brooks trotted out the odd three-guard lineup we’ve seen in the preseason and regular season starring Russell Westbrook, Ish Smith, and Raul Neto. Through two games, they now have a -66.6 net rating while on the floor together.

However, as the first half progressed, Neto actually was one of the Wizards’ better players. After the loss to Philadelphia, we wondered who would step up off the bench besides Bertans. After one half, it was Neto! Neto was a spark plug in the second quarter, scoring 11 points and making all four shots from the field. And then he never got any minutes in the third quarter. Or the fourth.

Instead, Ish Smith was left out there to struggle through the second half for the second consecutive game. After a rough night vs. the 76ers in which Smith went 2-7 from the field and finished with the second-lowest plus/minus on the team (-21), Smith went 2-6 vs. the Magic and had the lowest plus/minus on the team (-12). After registering zero minutes in the season-opener, Jerome Robinson got nearly 20 minutes vs. Orlando, only to miss all three of his shots and only dished out one assist to one turnover.

To make matters worse, Thomas Bryant was oddly missing during a long stretch of the second half. The Wizards came into the second half down by four, 63-59. By the 5:08 mark of the third quarter, though, the Wizards had turned that four-point deficit into a three-point lead, 83-80. Through the first seven minutes of the half, the Wizards outscored the Magic 24 to 17, and Bryant added 11 of those points.

After being a catalyst for the comeback, Bryant sat for 10 minutes while the Magic whittled away at the lead. By the time Bryant checked back in with 7:08 left in the fourth quarter, the Magic had retaken the lead, and things were starting to fall apart for the Wizards.

Next. 4 ways the Wizards will be better this season. dark

Rui Hachimura was out. Deni Avdija got into foul trouble after a nice debut. Davis Bertans is on a minutes restriction while he gets back into shape. I get it; the Wizards were shorthanded. But not playing Neto in the second-half was criminal. Robinson got too many minutes while not making much of an impact. And Bryant was sidelined for too long in the second half. Even if he couldn’t stop Vucevic, the Wizards were better with Bryant on the floor.

0-2 is not how the Wizards wanted to start their season. If they’re without Westbrook for the back-half of this back-to-back with the Magic, they’re in real trouble of starting 0-3. Scott Brooks better figure out these funky lineups fast, because right now they aren’t working. In the meantime, the losses are piling up.