Wizards 121, Knicks 115: Lack of focus costs the Knicks again

Alex Wolfe

If all the Knicks wanted for Christmas was a win on their final game before the holiday... well, let's just say they must have not been on the "nice" list this year.

New York snuck out of the first half with a one-point lead, but uninspired play to open the second half led to a 14-0 run by the Wizards, which ultimately put enough distance between the two teams for Washington to pull off a 121-115 victory.

That's not to say the Knicks didn't make a game of it. What looked like it could have been easily the most embarrassing loss of the season to a severely shorthanded Wizards squad simply turned into a pedestrian-level embarrassing loss when New York managed to chop a 17-point Wizards lead in the second half down to just three points late; the Knicks just weren't able to put a bow on the comeback effort.

One could argue if there should've even been a need for a comeback in the first place. The Knicks took as much as a 13-point lead in the first quarter before letting off the gas and allowing the Wizards to make it a game before half.

Apparently a subpar showing at shootaround was the culprit -- it was mentioned by three separate Knicks after the game.

“[Shootaround] was too relaxed," said Julius Randle, who scored a game-high 35 points on 11-21 shooting. "We had a day off yesterday from the back to back. We weren’t as sharp or crisp as we need to be."

"It starts in shootaround," RJ Barrett said. "We have to come in every day ready to go. We just have to play hard and fight with pride. We have to outwork everybody."

"It started in our shootaround," said Damyean Dotson, who had a season-high 19 points and five made 3-pointers. "We had a lack of focus. I don't know what it was, it may have been the day off. I feel like we were a little bit sluggish and that usually leads into the game."

After tonight, the Knicks are now three full games behind the very same Wizards that they underestimated in the standings. For a team that's within a game of being the worst in the league, it's certainly a bold strategy to breeze through a shootaround after two straight losses and take its foot off the gas in the first quarter against a team boasting one of the best guards in the Eastern Conference in Bradley Beal.

However, it wasn't even Beal that really killed the Knicks (he had 30 points, but took 38 shots to get there, making only 13). Players like Troy Brown (26 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) and the just-signed Gary Payton II (10 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, six steals) killed the Knicks off the bench and simply out-hustled them throughout.

"It's very frustrating," Barrett said. "We started great, we were up and we kind of let it go. We found it too late. It hurts when someone comes in your house and outworks you."

The game wasn't without positives, despite it being hard to find them amid the many gaffes. Randle had one of his most impressive efforts this season, scoring efficiently, getting to the line (and making them!) and hitting four 3-pointers on just eight attempts.

Unfortunately, Randle also fell into some of his worst tunnel vision habits at times, missing open teammates a number of times on drives.

Barrett finished with 18 points on 8-15 shooting, six rebounds and four assists, three of which came at a crucial juncture for the Knicks before the half -- their first comeback from a second-quarter deficit to enter the half with the lead before that fateful 14-0 run by the Wizards sunk them again in the third.

Frank Ntilikina didn't see the floor until around the 2:30 mark of the second quarter, but his impact was immediately felt when he entered the game instead of Dennis Smith Jr., who had another rough game on his way to a team-low minus-13 +/- in just seven minutes of action.

Mitchell Robinson also had a solid game... when he was able to stay on the floor. He finished with six points, 13 rebounds and six blocks in his return to the starting lineup, but was only able to play 23 minutes due to five pesky fouls.

Only one thing is really certain after this game -- the Knicks need to, as Randle said after the game, "look themselves in the mirror" and realize that nothing is going to come easy for a team that's now 7-24 through 31 games. Certainly the Knicks can't think that the Nets will go easy on them on Thursday.