The Wizards (17-30) have survived games this season without Bradley Beal, but Thursday it appeared they were running on fumes. Beal, who missed his third straight game with a right hip contusion, was one of several key members of the rotation to sit out. Also sidelined were point guard Ish Smith (quadriceps) and forward Davis Bertans (calf strain). Backup point guard Raul Neto, who missed the previous game with a rib contusion, returned.
But Wizards Coach Scott Brooks grew frustrated after fielding three questions in his postgame video conference about how Washington’s absences affected the outcome.
“You guys are putting me in a spot where I’m looking like I’m making excuses. I’m not,” Brooks said. “The facts are guys are out, but we have to step up and play better. These are opportunities for guys to get minutes, guys that haven’t played minutes. Guys that have been begging for minutes. They’re opportunities. Some have taken advantage of it. Some haven’t played as well as I would have thought or I would have hoped for and they would have hoped for.”
Those players the Wizards have been leaning on with Beal out — primarily Westbrook and Rui Hachimura — looked fatigued, missing shots at the free throw line and whiffing the same jumpers they made earlier this week.
Westbrook led the team with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists but had nine turnovers and lacked his usual energy after logging 35 hard minutes in a historic performance Monday and 22 minutes in a loss Tuesday.
“I thought this was one of the first times I’ve seen Russell — he’s been carrying us with all the offensive guys out, trying to manufacture everything,” Brooks said. “He looked a little winded at times. I probably played him too many minutes the last couple of nights, but we had to do that out of necessity with all the guys out. The other guys, I don’t think anybody stepped up and played well tonight. When you don’t do that, it puts a lot of stress into every possession down the court.”
Backup center Robin Lopez added 16 points, and starting center Alex Len had 14. Hachimura had 10 points, a bit of a low point after a strong string of games since the all-star break last month. Rookie Deni Avdija had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Small mistakes such as missed free throws and too many turnovers doomed the Wizards against Detroit, which sits last in the Eastern Conference.
Josh Jackson took advantage to lead seven Pistons scorers in double figures with 31 points.
Washington’s defense set the tone early and allowed the Pistons (14-34) to shoot 47.9 percent overall and 41.4 percent from three and let Jackson rack up 19 points in the opening 14 minutes.
On offense, hardly anything went right. Too many shots circled the rim before falling out, the Wizards couldn’t draw fouls as often as they needed to — especially before halftime, when they shot just five attempts from the foul line — and when players did get to the line, they left points on the board. Washington made 6 of 19 at the free throw line. Westbrook missed four of his five attempts.
“Yeah I mean, a lot of things went wrong. We can point at a lot of things,” Westbrook said when asked about the team’s missed free throws. “I think a lot of it starts with myself, just a [bad] job overall. Not taking care of the ball. Not being the best leader I could be. This one’s on my hands and on my shoulders. . . . I’m responsible for our energy and our effort. I take the blame on this one.”
It didn’t help that the team was cold from beyond the three-point arc: the Wizards made 5 of 19 from deep. Detroit’s 12 three-pointers, healthy 18-for-22 night at the free throw line and their 20 points off 15 Washington turnovers were more than enough to account for a 19-point lead at halftime, a margin that the visitors never seriously threatened over the final 24 minutes.
Winston, at least, was the beneficiary of one of the opportunities Brooks referenced after the game. The former Michigan State standout had five points in six minutes and hit one of Washington’s five three-pointers, with 10 family members watching in the stands.
“When opportunities open up and your name gets called, go out there and be yourself and play the game,” Winston said in a phone interview, detailing the main advice the Wizards’ coaching staff has doled out this year. “Play hard, play the right way. Things like that. When opportunities come, I try to take advantage of them.”