The Wizards Find Positivity Even in a Potentially Back-Breaking Defeat: ‘You Have to Build Off That’

The Washington Wizards put together one of their best performances against the Chicago Bulls on New Year’s Day, but it still came in vain.

A somewhat depleted Wizards squad battled the best team in the Eastern Conference to the final buzzer. Yet when the clock reached triple-zeroes, Washington suffered its 10th loss in the last 14 games.

The Wizards have fallen to the No. 8 seed and are desperate to make a move. However, rather than being disheartened by the latest crushing loss, Wes Unseld Jr.’s team is choosing to look at the positives.

DeMar DeRozan sank the Wizards on New Year’s Day

The Wizards did just about everything right against the Bulls on Saturday.

Despite missing Spencer Dinwiddie and Montrezl Harrell, among others, Washington played one of its best games of the season. The Wizards scored 119 points on 52.9% shooting from the field. They shared the ball incredibly well, racking up 26 assists against just 11 turnovers.

Bradley Beal had 27 points and 17 dimes. Kyle Kuzma poured in 29 points to go with 12 rebounds. After some early foul trouble, Daniel Gafford had 10 points and five boards in the third quarter. Nearly everyone contributed in some form or fashion.

But the Bulls and DeMar DeRozan would not be denied.

Chicago shot 17-of-34 from beyond the arc, even though the Wizards held the Bulls below 50% from the field and forced 15 turnovers. That long-range excellence kept the Bulls in the game, and DeMar DeRozan finished things off.

After Kuzma made a go-ahead 3-pointer with just seconds remaining, DeRozan delivered a game-winning jumper for the second straight day, becoming the first player in league history to do so. DeRozan’s exclamation mark underscored his trend of late-game heroics. For the Wizards, the jumper probably felt like a shot to the gut.

Still, Washington refuses to dwell on the heartbreaking aspect of the contest. Instead, Beal and his teammates sounded surprisingly encouraged after the game.

Optimism in the locker room

Chicago Bulls star DeMar DeRozan celebrates his game-winner against the Washington Wizards as Bradley Beal and Corey Kispert look on in dismay
DeMar DeRozan #11 of the Chicago Bulls celebrates with teammates after hitting the game-winning shot in the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards on January 01, 2022 | G Fiume/Getty Images

After such a painful ending to their matchup with the Bulls, the Wizards easily could have sounded deflated. They’ve had a rough go of it since a 10-3 start.

But Beal and others believe that the toughness and quality the team showed to start 2022 could give way to a run of success.

“We don’t like losing,” Beal said, via The Athletic. “I don’t think anybody enjoys that. But … we did everything we could possibly (do) to win, and Deebo (DeRozan) just made a crazy shot at the end of the game.”

Beal acknowledged that DeRozan’s buzzer-beater left a sinking feeling in Washington’s collective chest. Still, he suggested that the only way to go is up.

“But the moral side of it (is) to know that we competed and played hard and did everything (to) set ourselves up to win. You feel great about that, and you can continue to build off of that. You have to build off of that.”

–Bradley Beal, via The Athletic

Indeed, the Wizards felt encouraged even in defeat. Unseld praised Beal’s unselfishness. Kuzma exuded confidence and said Washington is finally beginning to fire on all cylinders because it is sharing the ball.

There’s good reason for all this optimism. It starts with Beal.

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The first 20-something games proved frustrating for Beal. He struggled to score the ball efficiently while turning the ball over at a relatively high rate. All the while, questions about his future seemed to loom larger the more the Wizards slid in the Eastern Conference standings.

Distractions seem to be everywhere. Still, Beal is slowly finding a rhythm.

In his last five games, the three-time All-Star is averaging 29.8 points on 53.2% shooting, including a more respectable 34.8 percent from beyond the arc. He is also averaging 8.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds in that stretch, impacting the game in just about every way imaginable.

Beal is kicking things into high gear. So, too, is Kuzma. The polarizing forward has scored at least 22 points in three straight games, with double-doubles in two of those contests.

Even though the Wizards have yet to stop the bleeding, recent indications suggest they could go on a bit of a run. They’re getting steadier scoring and playmaking contributions from just about everyone on the roster and should start winning some games when guys get healthy.

Finding a way to turn strong performances into W’s is absolutely vital, especially as it pertains to Beal, who will likely need more than $235 reasons to re-sign with Washington this upcoming summer.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.