Monday was a different story in every way but the ending — another Brooklyn win, this one by the score of 112-100 to hand the Wizards their seventh straight loss.
The Nets (17-12) have executed an about-face and arrived at Capital One Arena as one of the hottest teams in the NBA, and they now have won 11 of 14. If Durant and company had little trouble with the Wizards at the Nets’ nadir, it often felt as though they were toying with Washington (11-17) into the fourth quarter Monday as the hosts played for the fourth straight game without Bradley Beal (hamstring) and the second without starting point guard Monte Morris (groin). Rui Hachimura (ankle) and Delon Wright (hamstring) extended their long absences.
The mood among the players and Coach Wes Unseld Jr. is that of a team in survival mode. The Wizards leave Tuesday for an 11-day, six-game road trip through the Western Conference that could be even more of a drain on a shorthanded roster and especially Kristaps Porzingis, who left Monday’s game in the third quarter with lower back tightness.
Unseld said he was not sure whether he would get any of his injured players back in time for Wednesday’s game in Denver. His goal after Monday’s loss was to encourage the healthy ones.
“We’ll still show the film, show mistakes, and you can teach that way. We’re not going to be able to do a ton on the floor with how short we are on bodies,” Unseld said. “It’s that fine line. You want to keep guys encouraged, but at the same time, if we minimize some of these mistakes, the turnout could be different.”
Brooklyn didn’t hold a double-digit lead until the third quarter, though it was clear its offense was a class above the Wizards’. Irving skittered across the lane juking defenders on his way to 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. Durant shot 11 for 17 to lead all scorers with 30 effortless points despite occasional moments of commendable one-on-one defense from Deni Avdija.
The Wizards didn’t get embarrassed as they did in the teams’ first matchup; 11 three-pointers kept the game close for much of the night. But the disparity in talent and cohesion on both ends was clear — especially without Beal’s scoring prowess — in Brooklyn’s offensive movement and flair. A whopping 20 turnovers created far too many opportunities for a team with Brooklyn’s star power.
Will Barton led the Wizards with 22 points off the bench in a surprising rejuvenation after a struggle-filled start to the season. Kyle Kuzma added 20 points and seven rebounds. Porzingis had 20 points and three rebounds.
“The mood is what it is. … We have a good group of guys, good atmosphere, good chemistry in the locker room,” Porzingis said. “We play hard for each other; we’re just not good enough to win these games. And we’re missing a lot of guys. … We’re in a tough moment right now, but hopefully we can all be healthy very soon. And the team’s going to look a lot more fresh, with some juice.
“We’re all giving it all out there. It’s just not enough.”
Here is what else to know about the Wizards’ loss:
Beal remained sidelined with a hamstring strain but has been cleared to resume on-court activities, the Wizards announced Monday. Unseld said before the game that Beal will need time to recondition, but the plan was for him to travel with the Wizards on their upcoming trip.
Hachimura and Wright also are progressing but still have no timetable to return, Unseld said. Hachimura sprained his right ankle Nov. 18, and an MRI exam revealed a bone bruise.
“He’s able to do some contact stuff, one-on-one at this point. The duration has been expanded as far as his workouts,” Unseld said. “It’s going to take some time — after every workout, there’s a determination of how he feels, are there any other issues. But he’s trending in the right direction. We’re just going to take our time on it.”
Wright has not played since Oct. 25, when he suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain.
After missing two games with foot soreness, Barton came back with gusto. The 31-year-old wing has had a shaky season, entering Monday averaging 7.3 points and shooting a career-low 35.6 percent, but he rebounded against the Nets to score in double figures for the first time since Nov. 23. He had 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, including two three-pointers, in the first half and carried on without trouble in the second.
Barton has said it has been an adjustment for him going from a starter’s steady minutes with Denver to coming off the bench in Washington, particularly with the lineup constantly changing because of injuries.
“I just had to tell myself to stop thinking so much,” he said. “I was just thinking too much — ‘Should I do this? Should I do that?’ — instead of really going out there and playing basketball carefree. That’s when I’m at my best.”