- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Scott Brooks wanted to see progress.

Ahead of Wednesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, the Wizards coach detailed how his team should be better aware of the Spurs‘ tendencies. Having faced them once already this season, players needed to be more honed in on the way DeMar DeRozan drove right, the way LaMarcus Aldridge liked the way to pump fake to fool defenders.

“Tonight is going to be a perfect night for growth,” he said.

QUIZ: Can you match the nickname to the NBA player?

As it turned out, Washington didn’t fix all of its defensive problems in one night— but still defended enough to come away with the victory in another high-scoring shootout. The Wizards (4-8) rallied in the second half to knock off the Spurs in a 138-132 win at home.

Bradley Beal led all scorers with 33 points, 21 of which came in the third. Down 69-63 at halftime, the Wizards rode Beal’s hot hand to start the quarter as the two-time All-Star knocked down nine straight attempts.

Washington also played the necessary defense to get themselves back in the game. At one point in the third, the team went on a 22-3 run, jumping out to a nine-point lead. Even as the Spurs got back into it, the Wizards kept up the pace — and defended just enough — to hang on in the fourth quarter.

Washington, which shot 58.7% from the field, survived a late Spurs rally to hand San Antonio its seventh defeat in a row. The Wizards led by as many 12 with four minutes left.

Despite giving up more points than their first meeting with the Spurs, the Wizards were able to defend well enough to get the lead and preserve it.

“I would say we definitely made a step in the right direction in terms of having a better IQ, talking more,” Beal said. “But we’ve got to run guys off the three-point line as much as possible and get that 132 down. That’s just way too many points.”

A month ago, the Wizards put a spirited fight — losing 124-122 on Oct. 26 when DeRozan drove to the rim and scored over Thomas Bryant with five seconds left. Though they fell short, the Wizards were proud of their effort. Entering the second meeting, Brooks said he felt like it was a chance for the team’s younger players to demonstrate what they’ve learned.

In the first, the Wizards struggled to defend. Beal and first-rounder Rui Hachimura got into early foul trouble, with Brooks sitting the rookie just three minutes into the game. San Antonio, behind DeRozan and Aldridge, knocked down nine of its first 11 shots and jumped out to a 10-point lead. But even as it couldn’t stop anyone — the Spurs finished the first with 38 points — Washington’s second-unit lifted the team offensively, cutting San Antonio’s lead to three by the end of the quarter.

Washington, though, is ranked second to last in defense for good reason. The Wizards lack both the awareness and talent to be a consistently great defensive team, and the Spurs exploited the weakness by driving at the rim and knocking in a flurry of jump shots.

By halftime, with a 69-63 lead in hand, the Spurs had shot nearly 57% from the field, including 8 of 18 from deep.

But the Wizards finally cracked down after halftime — and continued the offensive explosion. In addition to Beal, former Spurs forward Davis Bertans went off for the Wizards — finishing with 21 points. Washington acquired Bertans in the offseason for a second-round pick.

The Wizards, who have the third-best offense in the NBA statistically, moved the ball and shot 18-of-30 from beyond the arc. After the game, Bertans said they sensed the Spurs were a “little bit slower in getting back” and wanted to use that against them. “We’re a young team, we like to run,” he said.

Bertans added the Wizards got confidence when they made enough stops defensively to open a 12-point lead.

“If we can actually get some stops, we can (beat) a lot of teams in this league,” Bertans said. “We score 140 points almost every game and still mostly losing, which is ridiculous. We were just saying, ‘We don’t even need to play great defense or good defense. We just got to play a little bit below average’ and keep the other team to like 120.”

With the lead in hand, Brooks turned to Beal in the fourth to “take over the game.” The 26-year-old complied, giving Washington its fourth win.

“I kind had that (mindset) the whole second half,” Beal said. “In the first half, I wasn’t being aggressive enough and I wasn’t really playing the way I liked. The second half was just totally different.

“A miss is a lady, last time I checked,” he said later. “I don’t know what a miss is.”

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