Wizards seek season sweep of Celtics
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards had their five-game winning streak without injured All-Star John Wall snapped in their previous contest.
Avoiding a second consecutive loss would mean remaining undefeated against the Boston Celtics this season.
The Wizards get their chance at another win Thursday when they host the Celtics.
The Celtics (39-16) lead the Eastern Conference, one game ahead of the Toronto Raptors. Thanks to their recent surge, the Wizards (31-23) moved into a virtual tie for third, mere percentage points behind the struggling Cavaliers. Washington's chance to jump Cleveland ended with Tuesday's 115-102 loss at Philadelphia.
Boston, which had won four in a row, trailed Toronto by 29 points before falling 111-91 on Tuesday in Kyrie Irving's return from a quad contusion.
"We got our butts kicked by a really good team who physically overwhelmed us from a speed and physicality standpoint," Boston coach Brad Stevens said told reporters. "That's the part that really stood out to me. I thought their pace and their physicality were different than ours."
Ball movement and balanced scoring fueled the Wizards' winning streak that included impressive victories over Oklahoma City, Toronto and Orlando. The same crispness wasn't there in the second game of a back-to-back set and third road game in four days.
Washington lacked energy early and trailed by 17 points after the first quarter. Led by their other All-Star guard Bradley Beal, Washington fought back, but each rally was met by a 76ers key play or 3-pointer. Philadelphia sank 14-of-28 from beyond the arc and All-Star center Joel Embiid had 27 points and 12 rebounds, enough to overcome Beal's 30.
"We dug a deep hole in that first quarter, 37 points, we couldn't make any shots during that stretch too," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. "We fought, we fought, and we battled. It seems like every time we cut it to seven or eight we would miss a wide-open three and they would come down and make one.?
Even with Thursday afternoon's NBA trade deadline looming, the primary buzz involving Washington centers around a lingering narrative about the team's improved play without Wall. He will be out six to eight weeks following left knee surgery on Jan. 31.
After the Wizards had 30 assists and eight players score in double figures against the Raptors, Beal explained the contagious ball movement as "everybody eats." Center Marcin Gortat later tweeted out "Unbelievable win tonight! Great team victory!" Many interpreted those statements as a shot against Wall, charges Beal and Gortat denied.
Wall, who is averaging 19.3 points and 9.3 assists, spoke with several media outlets on Tuesday about the perceived tension.
"It was funny to me at first just to see some of the things that people were saying and certain type of comments, but like I said, I've seen these guys put in a lot of work every day," Wall said Tuesday on ESPN's "The Jump." "We always say the motto is 'next man up, no matter what.' We moved the ball well early in the season, we just couldn't make shots and we couldn't defend at all. I think now guys are stepping up. The first unit and the second unit are playing very well.
"But it was kind of shocking to hear a couple people saying the ball is moving a lot better when that's what I pride myself off of is being happier when my teammates are scoring than I am."
Point guard Tomas Satoransky has stepped in for Wall and provided energy on both ends of the court. That will be needed in the matchup against Irving, who missed three games with a quad injury.
Irving, who leads the Celtics with 24.7 points and 5.0 assists, scored 17 points in 22 minutes against Toronto. He also took the hit for Boston's lagging energy in Tuesday's loss.
"Me not necessarily playing with the pace I should have been playing with all night," he told reporters. "Also, the effort on both ends. That's the responsibility I have as one of the leaders on this team in integrating myself as best I can. I didn't do a good job of that and it kind of led to some of our mistakes."
Washington is 10-7 without Wall this season, but his point guard play helped lead the Wizards to a 111-103 at Boston on Christmas Day. Beal scored 25 points, Wall had 21 and 14 assists, and Otto Porter finished with 20 points. Irving and rookie Jayson Tatum each had 20 points.
Updated February 8, 2018