- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 17, 2020

Bradley Beal jogged out of the tunnel, jokingly mimicking the noise that would typically follow. With no actual fans, the Wizards star was left to his own devices to fire himself up for the first basketball game at Capital One Arena in 282 days.

Crowd noise, however, wasn’t the only thing missing from the Wizards’ 97-86 loss Thursday to the Detroit Pistons. In their second game of the preseason, the Wizards were still working out kinks in an ugly performance with the regular season less than a week away.

Preseason results, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt. The Wizards’ offensive problems could easily be explained by noting Washington was without three of its top offensive playmakers: Russell Westbrook and Davis Bertans sat for rest, while Rui Hachimura missed the game with pink eye.

But here are three takeaways from the Wizards’ preseason home opener:

The starting small forward spot is still up for grabs

Wizards coach Scott Brooks started Isaac Bonga at small forward Thursday in place of rookie Deni Avdija, who got the nod in Sunday’s loss to Brooklyn. While Avdija had an impressive debut, Brooks said he wanted to give Bonga a shot with the starters.

Bonga, who played a team-high 33 minutes, had his moments. The 21-year-old hit two corner 3-pointers and has the length to defend true wings. He finished with 10 points overall on 4-of-6 shooting.

Avdija, though, continues to make a strong case for why he should start. The 19-year-old has a natural feel for the game, especially on offense. Though his shooting came back to Earth — he finished 3-of-8 (7 points) after going 6-of-6 in Brooklyn, he hardly looks overwhelmed. Avdjia’s most impressive moment came in the first quarter when he forced a turnover and then powered through two defenders in the paint to finish a layup in transition.

Defense leaves a lot to be desired

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard likes to point out that Washington had the 18th-best defensive rating after the trade deadline last season — not great, but respectable enough.

The Wizards will need to make a lot of improvements to reach, or top, that mark again.

The Pistons showed how far Washington still has to go defensively, taking advantage of late rotations, lazy transition defense and poor situational awareness. While the Pistons failed to score under 100 points — a mark teams take pride in — Detroit raced out to a 22-point lead in the first half.

The Pistons shot 49.4% from the field and 40% from deep, while forward Jerami Grant led with 15 points. The final score was closer than the game indicated.

In a near-empty arena, the players can be heard

Because of no fans in attendance, there’s a lot more that can be heard on the court. That, at times, can be jarring — especially when you can hear Pistons forward Blake Griffin audibly laugh at Thomas Bryant after their small dust up in the third quarter. Upset with Griffin’s physicality under the basket, Bryant charged at Griffin and had to be held back by teammate Moe Wagner. Griffin just laughed as referees broke up the scrum.

Griffin was called for a flagrant, while Bryant was given a technical.

Thursday was an odd showing from Bryant, whose energy was occasionally chaotic. He went just 2-of-7 and had a team-high five turnovers. But he used that intensity to produce four block shots, a positive development as he looks to improve defensively. 

Other notable moments included Beal’s vocal objection to a foul call — his expletive might have been heard with fans, to be honest — and center Robin Lopez barking defensive instructions when not in the game. Lopez, who sat on the floor with a towel draped around his arm, often called out rotations and offered pointers.

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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