Bradley Beal did everything he possibly could’ve done to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. Through three quarters, he scored a staggering 57 points. He closed the night with 60 and nearly helped the Wizards overcome a 21-point deficit against the team with the NBA’s best record. But the Wizards couldn’t pull it off in the end, putting them and Beal in rare historical territory.
Entering the night, 60-point scorers over the past 20 seasons had a combined record of 19-3. It is very hard to lose a game in which a player scores 60, but losing games that involve enormous point totals is Washington’s specialty. The 2019-20 Wizards lost 11 games in which they scored more 120 points, five in which they scored at least 130, and one in which they scored a staggering 158 points in regulation. Beal topped 40 points 10 times last season… and the Wizards lost nine of them.
It was the same old story on Wednesday. Beal put the Wizards on his back for three quarters. Their defense didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, and despite Beal’s 57, they trailed after three quarters. He ran out of gas from there, and the Washington offense could muster only five points in the final four minutes. Another masterpiece wasted. At 2-6, another season is well on its way to being wasted as well.
Beal has been remarkably patient with the Wizards during this rebuilding period. He delayed his free agency until 2022 when he signed an extension in 2019, ostensibly sacrificing a year of flexibility to give Washington peace of mind as it attempted to put a contending-caliber roster around him. That, obviously, has not happened. They finished No. 29 in the NBA on defense last season by giving up a staggering 114.7 points per 100 possessions, yet they’ve been even worse this season, allowing 115.2 points per 100 possessions even before Philadelphia dropped 141 on them Wednesday.
Prized offseason addition Russell Westbrook is shooting only 39.4 percent from the field this season. Not only is that the worst figure of his career, but if it lasted the whole season, it would be the second-lowest field goal percentage by a former MVP this century not coming off of a major injury (Allen Iverson was slightly worse at 38.7 percent in the 2003-04 season, but in a far more defensive-minded NBA). The first-round pick that was dealt to get him gives the Wizards even less ammunition to flank Beal with the proper supporting cast, and John Wall, the salary dealt to make the deal work, is flourishing in Houston. Youngsters Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija are promising, but not saviors. Passable defenders are few and far between on this roster.
In many ways, Washington now finds themselves in a similar position to the Houston Rockets, who acquired Westbrook during the 2019 offseason to appease James Harden. Rumblings suggested that Washington made their Westbrook trade for the same reason, with Jackie MacMullan even saying that Beal “was driving the Westbrook thing,” before the deal was made during an appearance on the BS Podcast.
Houston mortgaged its future to secure Westbrook and quickly saw the team-building constraints his presence enforced. He bailed on the experiment only a year into it, and James Harden is attempting to force his way out as well. Beal, to this point, hasn’t taken that path. His resolve has been uncharacteristic of the player empowerment era. In October, he said that he wanted to finish his career in Washington. That 2019 extension echoed the sentiment.
But that resolve will be tested as the losses mount. A frustrated Beal refused to speak with media after Washington got off to an 0-4 start. Losing a career-best 60-point outing has only added fuel to that fire.
“I’m pissed off,” Beal told reporters after the game. “I’m mad. I don’t count [them]. … Any of my career-highs, they’ve been in losses. So I don’t give a damn. You can throw it right out the window with the other two or three I’ve had.”
“I just want to win,” Beal concluded. If he’s set on finishing his career in Washington, that might not ever be possible. Westbrook’s enormous contract limits their financial flexibility. They’re already out a first-round pick thanks to the trade, and no defensive upgrades appear imminent. The Wizards are running out of time to build an infrastructure capable of making Beal a winner. Right now, they’re not close.
After all, if the Wizards can’t give Beal enough support to win when he scores 60 points, how are they going to supplement him over the course of an entire season?