3 POINTS: SLIM MARGINS, ODD LINEUPS, SESSIONS OUT

BY BEN STANDIG | MARCH 5, 2018

PACERS 98, WIZARDS 95

THREE POINTS FROM CAPITAL ONE ARENA:

Shrinking space. If the 2017-18 season requires a catchy slogan, “Everybody Eats” seems like the logical choice.

An offer of one more representative: no margin for error.

Because the Wizards suffered so many inexplicable losses to middling or bad teams earlier in the season, they no longer have a true margin for error in the Eastern Conference standings. Sunday’s 98-95 loss to the Pacers dropped Washington to fifth, one-half game behind Indiana.

Because of John Wall’s absence, the Wizards need all of their remaining key players helping out. Kelly Oubre Jr. did not play Sunday because of a sore left foot. That meant a nine-man rotation because there are no wing options deep on the bench. That means heavier minutes for others, namely Bradley Beal.

The Wizards must play efficient while Wall’s shot creation is sidelined. Instead, turnovers and opponent points off the turnovers plagued them during this first three-game losing stretch of the season. Indiana turned 15 turnovers in 20 points Sunday night.

That they lost Sunday is understandable based on a single 82-game schedule. That they trail Indiana in the standings is not. The Wizards are better than Pacers head-to-head. That’s not the point. All those early losses are starting to bite them as the playoff race tightens.

Beal off nights are in makes or misses only. The newly minted All-Star missed early, middle and, once again, late in Sunday’s loss.

The basic stats are these: Beal had 22 points and a career-high 11 assists, not bad numbers without context. There were also five turnovers. He finished 8-for-27 from the field.

Wait, it gets worse. After helping the Wizards roar back from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter to 87-85, Beal threw two errant passes, leading to four points for the Pacers.

Beal then missed a fast break layup, a mid-range floater and a 3-pointer inside the final 20 seconds. Each attempt would have tied the game or put Washington ahead. Mike Scott’s 3-point heave at the buzzer also didn’t find the bottom of the net.

Those details make it appear as if Beal fell apart late. It’s not possible to argue he excelled. In clutch situations Beal ranks third worst in field goal percentage (30.8) and fourth from the bottom on 3-point shooting (20.7). Those numbers are lousy, his late game work not ideal. “It’s no excuse, man. I gotta hit those shots. It’s plain and simple,” Beal said postgame. “I was tired, but you can’t half-ass carry a team. You gotta go all out. I gotta make those shots.”

Let’s back it up for a second. No doubt Beal was tired. He played just shy of 43 minutes, four more than any other player in the game. Almost none were lazy minutes. In addition to being the primary scorer, Beal played the lead guard role for most of the fourth quarter. Besides being the main scorer and facilitator, Beal primarily handled guarding Victor Oladipo, who finished with 33 points. Beal basically tried doing everything for the Wizards except take the opening jump ball and hand out towels.

He hasn’t been tired in all those games when the clutch shots miss. It’s fair to view fatigue as the factor Sunday. Only Paul George has played more minutes than Beal since Jan. 27, the date of the first game Washington played without John Wall during this current stretch of 16 games.

It’s also fair to cut Beal some slack with the turnovers seeing as he’s not a point guard and yet continually does that job. Beal isn’t pushy.

Scott Brooks says be the point guard. By doing so Brooks is also having Beal not play the style game that put him into the All-Star game. Run off picks, work off-ball, handle the ball in rhythm, attack.

Tomas Satoransky played only 22 minutes. He did pick up his fourth foul in the third quarter. He then never played in the fourth. Same for Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat. The lineup with Beal, Otto Porter, Jodie Meeks, Mike Scott and Ian Mahinmi rallied the Wizards. That lineup worked in part because Beal kept grinding on both ends. There is only so much grinding a player can take during a tense 48-minute game. Brooks kept that group on the court until the final buzzer.

Beal deserves heat for the loss in Washington’s final game before facing Miami Tuesday. He also deserves to be used in the role he fits.

End of the session? Whether Oubre’s injury is concerning may dictate whether Ramon Sessions remains with the Wizards. His 10-day contract ended at midnight. As the Wizards left the locker room, the veteran point guard remained in the dark. Washington needs wing depth most of all. Not having Oubre and Meeks shooting 1-for-6 Sunday as part of a season-long slump were the latest reminders of that fact.

It simply has not made sense why the Wizards signed Sessions. He and Tim Frazier are rather similar in style. Sessions has not played a second. Sunday’s game made for an ideal place to insert a new guy. Sessions isn’t a wing. The Wizards used just nine players – and wore out Beal. There is no other small forward or wing guard option. By Monday night there might be. Sessions’s 10-day session is up. Washington needs more wing help. This isn’t new.

Photo by Keith Allison, Flickr

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