WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards lost to the Toronto Raptors 109-105 on Friday night at Capital One Arena. Here are five observations from what went down...
Two in a row
Not all losses are equal and the way the Wizards lost to the Raptors on Friday night could be seen as especially cruel. They erased an 18-point deficit, to tie the game at 102-102 with 1:10 to go in the fourth quarter, only to allow Fred VanVleet to hit a quick three and then OG Anunoby to score a putback on a backbreaking offensive rebound.
Then again, the Wizards arguably only have themselves to blame. They also committed 18 turnovers, which led to 27 points for the Raptors. That was enough to squander an offensive performance that saw them shoot 50.6% from the field. The Wizards were previously 9-3 when they shot 50% or above this season.
The Raptors are uniquely good at making teams pay for their mistakes. They are fourth in the NBA in points off turnovers and second in creating turnovers. In that sense, the Wizards played right into their hands.
The loss dropped the Wizards back to .500 at 23-23 on the year. The Raptors, meanwhile, moved to 22-21. They also passed the Wizards in the East standings, now a half-game ahead of them for eighth. And perhaps very importantly, the Raptors won the season series 3-1. If they finish with the same record, Toronto will hold the seeding tiebreaker.
Sloppy second quarter
The Wizards got off to an excellent start, ending the first quarter with a 10-point lead. What stood out most about it was their ball movement, as they shared the ball and set up a series of easy baskets around the rim with quick and precise passes. Midway through the second quarter, that went out the window as they all of a sudden started turning the ball over to a startling degree. They had seven turnovers in a stretch of three minutes and 48 seconds, which helped erase a seven-point lead for the Wizards and turn it into a deficit.
Bradley Beal and Deni Avdija had two turnovers apiece during that stretch. Each guy had a backcourt violation, which isn't common at the NBA level. The Wizards finished the second quarter with nine turnovers in the frame. It was ugly and it allowed the Raptors to outscore them 35-24 in the second. Beal had nine turnovers for the game, which tied his career-high. The Wizards' ugly second quarter flipped the game's momentum and carried into the second half. They were outscored by 13 points in the third quarter.
Now that Thomas Bryant has returned from his ACL rehab, the Wizards have three quality centers and that, ultimately, is a good thing. But already there has been a noticeable effect regarding their roles, as the coaching staff seems naturally compelled to make sure all of them get playing time. Though Daniel Gafford is the starter, they essentially have to go away from him for extended stretches just to get the other guys on the floor.
That is even if Gafford is playing well. He had eight points in 12 minutes against the Nets on Wednesday, but didn't play after that as they rolled with Montrezl Harrell down the stretch. Gafford's inability to stop LaMarcus Aldridge surely played a role in that decision. But on Friday, Gafford had six points in six minutes to start, only to sit out the rest of the first half. He was on the court when the Wizards were playing well in the first quarter, but it was time for Bryant and Harrell to get some run. Harrell later played the closing minutes. Perhaps the Wizards can find a way to play some of these guys together in combination, but for now it seems like it could be difficult for them to find a rhythm with such spotty play.
Barnes is really good
Now with more than half a season in the books, the Wizards have gotten close looks at plenty of rookies this year in what is shaping up to be a strong 2021 draft class. They have now seen Scottie Barnes, the fourth overall pick, twice and he is certainly among the most impressive. In fact, he might be the most impressive, given how much he appears to have improved already as a scorer over the course of this season.
Barnes had a career-high 27 points on Friday night, including 10 points in the second quarter and 10 more in the third. He dribbles up the floor like a guard, yet is big and strong enough to play bully-ball against centers at the rim. He technically started at center for the Raptors, yet he was guarding 1-through-5 on defense. All that and he's only 20 years old. It's scary. He has superstar potential.
Kuzma was out
In addition to their head coach, the Wizards were missing one of their best players as Kyle Kuzma was a late scratch due to neck spasms. He came out to the court to warm-up pregame and went back into the locker room soon after. Avdija started in his place and had a solid game of nine points, six assists and five rebounds. Rui Hachimura also helped fill the void with 11 points and eight rebounds. He continues to make progress, now just seven games back from his long absence.
Going back to the coaching situation, one would have to think Wes Unseld Jr. will be back from health and safety protocols soon. The news broke seven days ago, so going by the usual 10-day timeline, he should be back by Tuesday's game against the Clippers, if not sooner. The Wizards will play the Celtics on Sunday. Both of those games are home before they have three days off then head to Memphis to see the Grizzlies. It will be good for the Wizards to get Unseld Jr. back.