Is this season really just three games old? It sure doesn’t feel that way, with the Wizards serving up so many reasons for concern just five days into the regular season.
They needed one game to have someone complain about the play calling after the team blew a 21-point lead against New Jersey. They couldn’t make layups in the second game against Atlanta. And they couldn’t submit the correct active roster in the third game against Milwaukee.
Roger Mason Jr. had pay the price for the latest mistake, which began with the NBA league office in New York and worked its way to Milwaukee, where Coach Flip Saunders neglected to notice that only 14 names were on the 15 available lines before signing off.
The Wizards may have been able to avoid the problem had Mason not scored a field goal within seven seconds after entering the game. But when the official scorer went looking for the player in the No. 8 jersey, Mason was nowhere to be found on the roster. Referee Danny Crawford informed Mason that he was ineligible to play and Mason initially thought it was joke. When he realized no one was laughing, Mason started cursing and angrily storming toward the locker room.
“It stinks for me. I wanted to play. I wanted to help our team,” said Mason, whose basket was awarded to Rashard Lewis. “At halftime I just tried to keep the guys positive. I really wanted to play bad tonight and I wasn’t able to so I just told them to never take anything for granted. Go out there and play hard.”
Saunders accepted blame for the error, as did the Wizards’ public relations staff, which generally circles the names on the active roster before every game and hands it to Saunders for a perfunctory signature.
Lewis, a 14-year veteran, and Mason had never seen a situation like the one that played out on Friday, but it has happened before. As Michael Preston, the Philadelphia 76ers director of public relations, pointed out late last night, it actually occurred almost five years ago in a game between the 76ers and Charlotte.
The Bobcats acquired Jeff McGinnis from the New Jersey Nets in a trade. But in his first game as a Bobcat on Jan. 13, 2007, the 76ers discovered that McInnis was not on the official roster turned in before the game. Charlotte received a technical foul and McInnis was ejected because a Bobcats employee had turned in the wrong roster.
The situation with Mason was more confusing because he actually played, though sparingly, in the first two games for the Wizards and hadn’t just arrived for a game with a new team. The Wizards weren’t certain how the mistake was made in the league office, but weren’t placing the blame elsewhere.
Saunders wanted to use Mason as a steadying influence for the second unit and said before the game that he would get a more enhanced role. “When you’re developing young players, it’s tough,” Saunders said. “And what we’ve found out is you can’t put them all in there at the same time. They need to have some veterans in there to have a calming effect and the veterans, they are not going to try to do too much. Young players, they try to do too much.”
Mason may have made a difference, since the Wizards got little from their starting backcourt of John Wall and Nick Young, who combined to score just nine points on 2 of 19 shooting. After getting pushed back to the bench after a poor showing in Atlanta, where he was held without a field goal and hoisted three long three-pointers in the final minutes, Jordan Crawford was the only offensive spark for the Wizards as he scored a season-high 24 points.
“I was frustrated against Atlanta. I wanted to beat ’em real bad and I didn’t think I got the chance,” said Crawford, who started his career with the Hawks. “I made an immature move being lackadaisical. [Saunders] made the right decision, doing what he had to do, sitting me down.”
Young and Crawford might actually have duel to see which player gets to come off the bench as sixth man, since both have thrived in the role. Young scored a combined 37 points and served as the leading scorer in the first two games. But he responded to his first start in nearly 10 months with his worst performance of the season, missing 9 of his 10 field goal attempts and finishing with just three points.
“It was tough,” Young said. “Missing wide open shots. Shots I wish I had back.”
The Wizards probably wish they could’ve gone back to a few hours before the game, when they submitted the incorrect roster. Or maybe, all the way back to Monday, when this season got off to a ominous start.
But three games in, one thing is already clear: It’s looking like this is going to be a long shortened season.
“It’s still early,” said Andray Blatche, who missed 11 of his 15 field goal attempts and finished with just nine points. “It feels like we’ve been playing 40 games already.”
They have 63 more to go.