Washington Wizards fall to Orlando Magic in home opener

Instead of stealing a win, the Wizards fell to 0-2 with a 130-120 loss Saturday night in largely empty Capital One Arena. “I thought ...

Instead of stealing a win, the Wizards fell to 0-2 with a 130-120 loss Saturday night in largely empty Capital One Arena.

“I thought we were a step slow,” Coach Scott Brooks said. “Every mistake we made, they capitalized.”

Unlike Wednesday night, when Washington’s poor defense late came as a letdown after three solid quarters, defense was an issue throughout the home opener — but never more than in the fourth quarter.

After the score was tied at 99 with under 10 minutes to play, Washington failed to produce the necessary stops and the Magic chipped away before a Khem Birch bucket, a three-pointer from Nikola Vucevic (22 points), a dunk from Aaron Gordon (15) and a basket from Markelle Fultz (21) put Orlando up 10 with just under six minutes to play. Washington got within five points three times before the end but never closer.

“I think it was an effort thing,” Beal said. “The last couple years Orlando has had our number, and I think it’s just from the standpoint of them playing harder than we do. … We just have to be more solid and disciplined and understand that, in the last five, six minutes of the game, it’s time to lock in.”

It was thanks to Beal (who led all scorers with 39 points on 14-for-24 shooting), Bryant and Westbrook that the Wizards had a shot at winning a game that often felt out of their control. As the defense lagged, the diverse offense that Washington flashed in its first game dried up. At halftime, Beal had 21 points and third-string point guard Raul Neto had 11 as the only other Wizards player in double figures.

Alternate scoring options were thin. Starting rookie forward Deni Avdija fell into foul trouble early, and two of the Wizards’ top offensive threats were cold for most of the game. Westbrook posted another triple-double with 15 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists, but he made just 6 of 19 attempts from the floor and didn’t find his rhythm until the third quarter.

“We didn’t put ourselves in position to win a game, especially myself,” said Westbrook, who according to ESPN Stats and Info is the first player with back-to-back triple-doubles to open a season since Magic Johnson in 1982-83. “This one’s on me, though … missing these shots.”

Three-point specialist Davis Bertans shot 2 for 10 from the outside. Neto, after he made all four of his shots in the first half, didn’t play in the second as Brooks searched for a solution from his second unit. And Rui Hachimura, a usual staple of the starting lineup at forward, remains out with pinkeye.

“Just trying to create a spark off the bench — those minutes are available,” Brooks said when asked to explain why he sat Neto in the second half. “It’s not going to be just keep playing minutes; you have to produce. … I felt he would be the spark that we needed. Raul, it was just the rotation didn’t come back around in the fourth quarter.”

Sluggish bench and poor defense aside, Washington trailed just 63-59 at halftime before an off-kilter, rushed night on offense reached its apex when Bryant grabbed a rebound early in the third quarter and scored a putback dunk on his own basket to put Orlando ahead 70-64.

At the least, the mistaken bucket (credited to Evan Fournier) kicked the Wizards into gear. Bryant (19 points) went on a rampage, scoring 11 points in less than three minutes, and helped the defense gain a step but only momentarily. Washington failed to defend home court the first chance it got this season — an element that Brooks said remains a priority even though home court doesn’t look or sound like it usually does.

With coronavirus protocols in place, enormous blue tarps with Wizards and Capital One branding cover seats where fans would be. Every grievance or shout of encouragement from players and coaches is audible to the limited (and masked) staff and media members in the building, and suites have been repurposed for broadcasters and reporters in lieu of a crowded press row.

It all made for a melancholy scene when the lights went down before tip-off and Washington honored franchise great Wes Unseld, who died in June at 74, with a video and a moment of silence — true, blanketing silence.

“We truly miss you,” Beal said on video to an empty arena. “Thank you, 41.”

The Wizards will have another shot at a home win Sunday night when Orlando returns for the second half of a back-to-back.

“Whatever that means, whatever that looks like, we have to win tomorrow. … Orlando’s a team that don’t stop,” Beal said. “They keep punching and punching; we’ve got to throw some punches back.”

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Newsrust: Washington Wizards fall to Orlando Magic in home opener
Washington Wizards fall to Orlando Magic in home opener
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