- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2018

Wizards coach Scott Brooks wanted more urgency. Instead, he got more of the same.

A slow start and poor defense doomed the Wizards in a 101-97 loss Sunday to the New York Knicks, with Knicks point guard Trey Burke converting on an “and-1 opportunity” with under a minute left to secure the win.

The defeat drops the slumping Wizards further in the Eastern Conference standings, with Washington now 2½ games back of the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers. If the postseason started today, the Wizards would have to travel to Cleveland to face the red-hot Cavaliers.

Burke, a former Wizards point guard, led all scorers with 19 points as Wizards starters Bradley Beal and Otto Porter each shot under 40 percent.

The Wizards‘ comeback effort fell short, but it was a problem that they needed one in the first place.

New York had previously lost 19 of its last 22 games. They were without star Kristaps Porzingis, who tore his ACL in February.

This Wizards squad looked much similar to the team unable to take care of business against sub-.500 opponents earlier in the season. Beal said the Wizards need to run their plays harder and stop playing hero ball.

“We acted like we didn’t give a damn,” Beal said. “Honestly, we thought we could just show up and play because they don’t have anything to play for. We just thought it was going to be a cakewalk and they smacked us in the mouth.”

After Friday’s 108-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets, Brooks criticized his team’s lack of urgency to start games. The Wizards have been plagued by poor starts in each of their last two games, scoring 18 and 16 points in the first quarter, respectively. The issue, Brooks said, has come down to missing shots.

The Wizards hope star John Wall will provide a shot of adrenaline when he returns from a left-knee injury. Wall practiced Saturday for the first time since undergoing knee surgery on Jan. 31. Brooks said Wall looked great, and the Wizards fed off his energy.

But Brooks said Wall’s return won’t happen until he has practiced enough to get his conditioning back.

Until he does, the Wall-less Wizards need to find a way to keep pace in the Eastern Conference.

“I think we looked like we were waiting for John to come back and change everything, playing like we did the first game he was missing,” guard Tomas Satoransky said. “That’s not the right way to do it. We have to go out and play as hard as we can every game.”

Against the Knicks, the Wizards came out flat — again.

The Wizards struggled to make baskets, scoring only eight points in the first six minutes. Both teams were sluggish, going through the motions early.

Despite leading 21-19 by the end of the first, the Wizards finished the quarter shooting just 40.9 percent.

“We’re missing a lot of easy shots,” Brooks said. “Layups. Tip-ins. Dunks. Those are things you’ve got to make. Plain and simple.”

When the Wizards‘ offense failed to click, the defense fell apart. The Knicks posted 42 points in the second, taking advantage of missed rotations and poor transition defense. New York used a 14-5 run to take a nine-point lead, 46-37, with 4:44 left in the second, capped off by an Enes Kanter hook shot.

The Wizards trailed 61-53 at halftime.

The third quarter wasn’t much better. Ball movement, stagnant early, improved, but at the wrong times. Wizards forward Markieff Morris, for instance, passed to the center of the paint — only for no one to be there.

The Wizards mounted a comeback in the fourth, but didn’t make the stops necessary late. Washington took a 95-94 lead with 1:08 left on a Morris jumper, though Burke swung the game back with his 3-point play. Wizards forward Kelly Oubre committed the foul.

“Until we doing it individually and together collectively, we are going to get our ass kicked in the playoffs,” Beal said. “This is not even remotely acceptable how we are playing right now.

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