- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 26, 2017

Scott Brooks didn’t look under the pulled-out bleachers or behind the spin bike that Otto Porter uses to keep loose when not in the game.

He didn’t check in the 200 level, which was rather full for a Sunday. He didn’t look in the club area reserved for specific ticket-holders.

Brooks did look everywhere else for an answer Sunday afternoon against the brutish Utah Jazz. He tried different mixes with the bench unit, even going to an extremely small lineup with Markieff Morris as the center. He called full timeouts and 20-second timeouts. No matter which lever he pulled, nothing clicked, and the Wizards were washed away 102-92 by the muscular visitors from the Western Conference.

“Beat our ass on the boards, they beat our ass the whole game, honestly,” Markieff Morris said.

The loss kicks off what could be a sapping week for what was the league’s hottest team. Offensive juggernaut Golden State comes to Washington on Tuesday. Wednesday, the Wizards travel to Toronto, which is right behind them in the standings, for the second game of a back-to-back. Friday, the Raptors are back in Washington. The Wizards have not lost more than three consecutive games since November. Sunday’s loss produced their first losing streak since Jan. 2 and 3, when they lost back-to-back games.

In two losses since the All-Star break, Washington’s maladies have been varied. At Philadelphia, its defense was uninspired and poor. By the time Washington altered its approach, it was too late.

Against Utah, the Wizards were outmuscled from the start. Seven-foot-1 Utah center Rudy Gobert was, oddly, unrecognized when he ducked to enter the media work room before the game in pursuit of a meal. He was asked for a ticket so he could eat. Gobert eventually pulled in fixings of ribs and cornbread that served him well when clearing space, making Washington dribblers go in an opposite direction and playing all-around intimidator.

Brooks joked before the game that the way for an offensive player to handle Gobert was to pass the ball when he approached. The center’s dominance was far-reaching. He finished with 20 rebounds and more free-throw attempts than Washington’s team to command Washington’s second loss in three days.

“I think some similarities in our focus level,” Bradley Beal said of the two losses. “Coming out ready to play. I think sometimes we put too much attention on the refs and not getting calls.”

Yes, the referees. They were a fervent topic throughout and after the game. At halftime, the Jazz had attempted 18 free throws. Washington had shot one. That disparity moved to 20-1, at one point, before a late tilting put it at 32-13 by game’s end.

John Wall, who had a good-and-bad evening of 23 points, 11 assists and nine turnovers, received a technical late. He continued to stew afterward.

“It’s frustrating, though,” Wall said. “You keep attacking the basket. No-name guys getting calls on the other end that’s getting little contact. We drive to the basket and get contact the whole game, then you try to make up for those calls the last two minutes of the game. It gets frustrating. But, I have to do a better job as a leader of this team to hold my emotions in check.”

Beal deemed the discrepancy, “a little weird.” Brooks did his best to avoid controversy — and a fine — by explaining the difficulty working as a referee presents.

What the Wizards knew before and remain sure of since the break is the starting five. How they can survive with the current bench remains an issue.

Trying to fit trade deadline acquisition Bojan Bogdanovic into the rotation has been a chore. Brooks has mixed him with four starters, multiple other bench players, in a small lineup and with a more traditional group.

Bogdanovic played three positions against Utah. He found a rhythm late in the second quarter on his way to 15 points. However, he is not a player who creates his own scoring. That element continues to elude the Wizards’ second unit, a group that did not score for more than four minutes to begin the second quarter and one that runs offense with the swiftness of a cement block.

Brooks searched to derive some pleasure from the thumping. He found a positive in the Wizards’ moderate rally that pulled them to within six points with 2:01 to play. He thought Bogdanovic started to find his way. Brooks was also pleased with Beal’s personal rally from a scoreless, foul-ridden first half to finish with 22 points.

None of those things changes the giveaway in Philadelphia or the manhandling by Utah. The schedule only became more daunting for a team that was on a rocket ride heading into the All-Star break, and is yet to get off the ground since, because of those losses.

“We’re going to have to get back to what we’ve done,” Brooks said.

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