The Wizards played their first real game since Mar. 10 this afternoon, taking on the Phoenix Suns in a 125-112 loss. Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton led the way for Phoenix; Booker led the team with 27 points while chipping in five rebounds and four assists. Ayton totaled a double-double with 24 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. Dario Šarić continued the trend of highly productive Suns players with a ‘D’ first name by pouring in 16 points, six rebounds and three assists off the bench.
The Wizards were without Bradley Beal and Dāvis Bertāns — the two highest-scoring players on the team this year — so other players had to step up. Rookie Rui Hachimura led the way with 21 points and eight rebounds, while Ish Smith led the team with seven assists and Jerome Robinson scored 20 points off the bench.
The Wizards opened the game on a strong note, specifically Robinson, who scored 13 first half points, but a sloppy second quarter put them down 67-52 at halftime. The team tried to make a few pushes to cut the deficit throughout the second half, but there just weren’t enough stops and Phoenix strolled to a 13-point victory.
Aside from a string of nice passing plays that led to easy scores, it was a tough game to watch. The team’s youth was apparent, and the porous defense carried over from before the break. This team is not in Orlando with high expectations, but it’s looking more and more like their stay in the bubble will last just eight games.
Phoenix is the lowest-seeded team in the West taking part in the restart, and the easiest opponent the Wizards will face, at least on paper. With a stripped down Brooklyn team coming next, the Wizards still have a chance to cut the gap in the Eastern Conference standings, but their chances of forcing a play-in don’t look any better than they did entering the restart.
Looking at the positives, Hachimura looked like one of the best players on the court. He was taking the ball up most of the time, and looked like a natural point forward. While other main ball handlers such as Smith and Shabazz Napier made plays here and there, they caused too many unnecessary turnovers. Hachimura, meanwhile, made plenty of great passes, handled fast breaks well, and called his own number for a few crisp finishes.
Even on defense, Hachimura seemed to be one of the few Wizards actually making plays, but it wasn’t enough. Booker looked like the second coming of Steph Curry while Ayton probably deserved a call to the principal’s office the way he was bullying guys in the post.
The poor defense led to plenty of fouls, and the Suns capitalized, hitting 30 of 32 free throw attempts. In a game with a 13-point margin of victory, that’s huge. The defensive problem won’t be fixed in Orlando, but committing fewer fouls should be a high priority entering the next seven games.
If nothing else, this should be about the development of younger players. Facing all these playoff caliber teams won’t help the team’s chances this year, but giving Hachimura & Co. experience against these teams will hopefully serve them well in the future. Hachimura already looks like he’s benefitting from a larger role, and it won’t be surprising if Troy Brown Jr., Thomas Bryant and others will follow suit.
There are a lot of improvements to look for in the next game against Brooklyn, but overall the Wizards looked as expected in their first game back: young and struggling.
Cover Photo Credit: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports