- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2018

This isn’t how a homestand is supposed to go.

The Washington Wizards lost their third straight game at Capital One Arena on Sunday, falling to the Indiana Pacers 98-95 despite a long fourth-quarter charge led by Bradley Beal. It is the Wizards‘ first three-game losing streak this season.

Beal had a double-double with 22 points and a career-high 11 assists and Otto Porter scored 17 points for Washington (36-28). Victor Oladipo posted a game-high 33 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 20 for Indiana (36-27).

It was a key game for both teams considering their proximity in the Eastern Conference Standings. The Wizards and Pacers entered Sunday fourth and fifth in the conference, respectively, packed in tightly with Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Beal found his stroke in the fourth quarter after a cold first half, and the Wizards‘ defense early in the fourth made a comeback possible. The effort came up short even though Beal scored 13 of his 22 points in the final frame. He missed a game-tying buzzer-beater, making the rest of his heroic fourth quarter in vain.

“Last couple games, we’ve been digging ourselves a hole too early. We spend all our time and energy trying to fight and claw back into the game,” Beal said. “Eventually we run out of gas, but that’s our own fault, so we gotta do better maintaining a lead if we have one, keeping the game close and definitely executing down the stretch better.”

The losing streak was a matter of turnovers and execution issues, not effort, said Wizards coach Scott Brooks.

“I like the fact that we competed back to get back into the game defensively, (allowing) 18 points in the fourth quarter,” Brooks said. “We gotta start the game with that.”

Everyone’s shots refused to fall in the first quarter. It wouldn’t go from beyond the arc when Satoransky sent a sweet one-timer pass around the key to an open Porter. It wouldn’t go from two feet away, a distance where Gortat missed twice in the first period.

It wouldn’t go even when Beal grabbed a steal and nearly beat Oladipo on a breakaway. Oladipo fouled him on his way up to force a missed shot, but when he didn’t draw a call, Brooks did — a technical — for arguing with a referee.

Oladipo scored 11 in the first period, which ended with a 30-20 Indiana lead.

With four reserves on the floor to start the second, the Wizards struck up a 12-0 run to draw within one. But the Pacers had little trouble responding when they sent more of their starters back to the floor. Bogdanovic and Oladipo hit threes as they grew their lead to 46-36. From there, it was another Wizards run, 7-0, to narrow it down.

All the runs aside, both teams scored 25 points in the second period and Indiana held a 10-point halftime lead. Beal went 2-for-10 in the first half and Porter just 1-for-7.

Although Beal’s second half went much better, his first half resembled his 3-of-15 night Wednesday against the Warriors.

“He has to continue to trust what we do, and I think he will,” Brooks said.

After only scoring five points in the first half, Porter came out with nine in the third quarter including a 3-pointer that fired the crowd up. But the Pacers dominated the latter half of the period, outscoring the Wizards 17-7 amid dejected fans calling for Jason Smith to enter the game.

Beal ended those chants when he scored five points during a Wizards‘ 10-0 run to start the fourth. That stretch also saw Jodie Meeks nail a 3-pointer for his first field goal of the night, cutting the deficit to five. The Wizards‘ leading scorer continued with a 20-foot jumper and a pair of free throws.

Meeks sank two free throws to cut the score to 87-85 at the 4:25 mark, but Beal was responsible for two bad passes that led to a jumper and a dunk from Oladipo. Beal cut the lead in half again with a 3-pointer, making it 91-88.

Mike Scott matched a Cory Joseph jumper and Oladipo and Porter traded threes to keep the margin to three. Beal made it 96-95 Indiana with two free throws and nearly delivered Washington the lead on the next play. He had a breakaway when Oladipo missed a shot, but couldn’t convert the layup through the defenders.

The Wizards could have had the game-winning play with 10.3 seconds left, after Oladipo made one of two shots from the line.

Beal juked a defender to get into the paint but his jumper clanked in and out. Bogdanovic was fouled on the rebound and made one of two, pushing the score to 98-95. But Beal missed the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime off the front of the rim.

Brooks played Meeks, Scott and Ian Mahinmi extensively in the fourth quarter as opposed to the full starting lineup. He said after the game that they were giving the Wizards more energy.

“We came from behind with that lineup, and I was going to roll the dice,” he said.

“I thought they deserved the chance to win the game … Mike (Scott) was a momentum change for us.”

The Wizards lost the first two games of their current homestand to two of the three winningest teams in the NBA, 109-101 to Golden State and 102-95 to Toronto. They conclude their extended stay at Capital One Arena Tuesday against the Miami Heat.

The team continues to talk about their tendency to turn the ball over during the losing streak. They cut the total down to 14 against Indiana after giving away 16 against Golden State and 17 against Toronto, but that’s still too many, Meeks said.

“You have points in the season, especially down the stretch, where you can’t afford stuff like that because we’re playing high-quality teams,” Meeks said. “Every game right now is kind of like a playoff game.”

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