But the cream is rising to the top, and it took just 10 minutes for it to become clear that the Wizards would struggle to maintain that level of play and keep up with Memphis offensively – especially without Bradley Beal. The Washington star guard entered NBA health and safety protocols on Saturday after testing positive for the coronavirus.
The Wizards who took to the field on Sunday weren’t effective enough on defense to help shorthanded Washington keep pace, and the Grizzlies prevailed, 103-97, in a hard-fought game.
Coach Wes Unseld Jr. said he was pleased with his team’s renewed efforts.
“We were lucky to let go of the rope and [we] stayed with her. I think that’s a good sign and definitely a better way – definitely a better approach than what we had the other night,” he said. “I’m proud of the effort. I know there are no moral victories. It is what it is – we have to find a way out. But we did some good things defensively. … Overall, I thought it was positive.
Washington scored the first nine points, but a 9-0 run late in the first quarter was enough for the Grizzlies to gain momentum as Ja Morant (23 points, nine rebounds, six assists) warmed up. With his fluid offense, Memphis forced the Wizards greats to defend Morant far too often – he’s too fast for them, and he had no problem jumping high enough to dodge even Kristaps Porzingis’ wingspan. 7 feet 3 inches.
On the other side, the Wizards looked lost on offense and too often looked to the teammate next to them to take charge as Unseld had to deploy a new starting lineup. Sophomore guard Corey Kispert started in place of Beal in just his second game of the season after missing time with a sprained ankle, and Deni Avdija was back in the starting lineup for Anthony Gill, who was recovering from a stomach virus. (Gill played three minutes off the bench.)
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The Grizzlies (7-3) built up a 23-point lead midway through the third quarter, meaning an impressive 19-0 run from the Wizards later in the period simply gave them a fighting chance rather than to control.
“We are proud of everything. We didn’t want the same result that happened with Brooklyn. We came back, we gave ourselves a chance,” said point guard Monte Morris. “We just missed.”
Washington (4-6) had no margin for error. His hard-fought third quarter fell apart when he allowed the Grizzlies to grab some key offensive rebounds. And Memphis received an injection of intensity when center Steven Adams returned after limping to the locker room in the third quarter.
Four consecutive missed three-pointers, two each from Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma, sealed the Wizards’ fate in the fourth as the arena rocked with the energy of a rowdy crowd and Memphis improved to 4-0 at home .
“It was tough to do a big race like that,” Morris said. “…But we were there; we had a good chance. They made some big plays, and in the aftermath…we had four good open looks; they just didn’t fall. We generated the plans we wanted — [it’s a] make or miss the league. A few good shots. We can live with that.”
Morris led five Wizards in double figures with 18 points. Rui Hachimura had 15 points off the bench; Kuzma added 12 points and 11 rebounds; Will Barton had 12 points; and Porzingis scored 10.
Desmond Bane had 28 points to lead Memphis, and Brandon Clarke added 16 off the bench.
Here’s what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:
This is Beal’s second stint in Protocols this season. He also missed a preseason game in Charlotte after returning conflicting coronavirus tests; it turned out he had strep throat.
Beal traveled with the team to Memphis on Saturday afternoon and was placed in protocols that night. Unseld said the goaltender would return home to Washington per protocol, skipping Monday’s game in Charlotte, and his absence made an already short bench even shorter.
The Wizards were without Beal and point guard Delon Wright (hamstring), and Gill was under time. That meant two-way player Jordan Goodwin, who splits his time between the Wizards and the G League’s Capital City Go-Go, got the opening minutes on Sunday.
Goodwin traveled with the team to Memphis; First-round picks Johnny Davis, Isaiah Todd and Vernon Carey Jr. were assigned to the G League.
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The Grizzlies, thanks in large part to Adams, entered Sunday as the third-best rebounding team in the league (46.9 per game). Washington can be proud of the fact that Memphis barely edged him out on the boards 50-49. Adams’ limited minutes were the difference, but the Wizards were also obviously more energetic around the edge.
Unseld’s praise for Goodwin after a resounding Oct. 30 loss to Boston was simple and telling: “He just did it.” The 24-year-old was in the right place at the right time, made no glaring mistakes and showed an impressive feel for the game despite having limited experience at the NBA level.
Goodwin did much of the same on Sunday: He had nine points, eight rebounds and five assists. He helped facilitate movement on offense and skillfully filled in the playmaker when asked.
Davis spent his weekend playing with the Go-Go. He had 13 points on 3-for-13 shooting to go with three rebounds and two assists in just over 25 minutes in the team’s season opener on Saturday, earning praise from Unseld for his aggression. He had 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting with four rebounds, three blocks and six turnovers in 23 minutes Sunday.
He is expected to join the Wizards on Monday in Charlotte.