- The Washington Times - Friday, January 29, 2021

The grin across Rajon Rondo’s face was almost as large as the Atlanta Hawks’ lead. 

As Russell Westbrook was ejected from the Wizards’ 116-100 loss to the Hawks, Rondo celebrated the moment by waving goodbye to the Wizards guard. Moments earlier, Rondo egged Westbrook on with a slight forearm to the chest on a boxout — leading a furious Westbrook to shove the 34-year-old guard and earn his second technical. 

Despite getting three players back from coronavirus-related absences, the Wizards were blown out Friday as they fell to 3-12, the worst record in the league.

Washington drew six technicals in what was a frustrating night for the Wizards. Center Robin Lopez was also thrown out, drawing two technicals back-to-back from the bench for arguing a delay of game call in the second quarter. 

Westbrook, who had 26 points, was tossed with 10:18 left in the fourth. Washington was down 92-71 at the time. 

“Honestly, it’s more on me,” Westbrook said. “I cannot allow myself to just stoop down to anybody’s level. That’s not my character, who I am. I’ve got to be better regardless of what trash-talking, what things are said. … I take full responsibility for all of that.”

Earlier in the game, just before halftime, Rondo and Westbrook got into it as the two had a brief exchange of words — each drawing a technical. The animosity was reminiscent of an incident over the summer when Westbrook grew agitated over a confrontation with Rondo and his brother, who was ejected from the stands during the Lakers-Rockets’ playoff series in the NBA bubble. 

Wizards coach Scott Brooks took issue with Westbrook’s ejection. Referee Mark Ayotte said in a pool report that Westbrook earned the second technical for a “physical taunt with an opponent” — on in other words, pushing Rondo.

“I thought Russell’s T, his last one, should have just been a foul,” Brooks said. “I could see the game was getting a little chippy but you’re going to call that, you might as well call them early in the game.”

Westbrook also didn’t agree with the call, but said he wouldn’t have been in the situation if he hadn’t “stooped down” to Rondo’s level.

In addition to Westbrook and Lopez, guard Bradley Beal and center Moe Wagner were each assessed technicals. Beal, like Westbrook, appeared visibly agitated by Rondo — exchanging trash-talk with the veteran when Rondo was on the bench.  

Asked if the technicals were a sign that frustration was mounting among the players, Brooks said he would assume that “a little bit.” But the coach maintained that the Wizards would “keep fighting,” adding later he liked to see that “chippiness” from players.  

The Wizards’ problems, however, extended far beyond their temper. The team shot only 36.5% from the field. Returning from COVID-19, Rui Hachimura (3-of-9) and Davis Bertans (0-of-7) combined to shoot just 30% and seven points. Over the last four games, the Wizards have had their lowest scoring output of the season — losing all four.

“Like I tell our guys: This is basketball, there’s a lot more tougher things that people are dealing with,” Brooks said. “And there are a lot of sad things people are dealing with. We get to do something that we love to do and we get to show the people that want to watch NBA basketball who love to see it. … We’re frustrated, but we’re not giving up.”

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