The final game before the all-star break can be sort of a trap, with players trying to focus on completing the task at hand while also preparing for the upcoming mini-vacation. And for two teams headed for the lottery before the season is halfway done, the temptation is certainly there to hurry up and get on with the second half.
But the Wizards and Sacramento Kings both viewed their matchup on Wednesday at Verizon Center as an opportunity to add another victory over a mediocre opponent and head into their midseason sabbatical of relaxation with some confidence and optimism. The Wizards were the more determined team in the first half, but they lost their way in the second half, with another meltdown of selfish offense and porous defense that resulted in a disappointing 115-107 loss.
Through 33 games, the Wizards (7-26) have proven themselves capable of the occasional highlight dunk, the rare offensive explosion and solid individual performances. But as Randy Wittman pointed out after the team lost its fourth in a row and dropped to 5-11 since he took over for Flip Saunders, they don’t always play “winning basketball.”
The Wizards don’t have the NBA’s second-worst record because they’ve had poor breaks and bad luck. They enter most games with a talent deficiency in comparison to their opponent, but they don’t help their cause when they forget that they lack a superstar to carry them and everybody engages in a nightly audition for the role of hero.
“We just keep relapsing back to old habits, selfishness, unawareness defensively, so it’s disappointing to end the first half of the season that way,” reserve Roger Mason Jr. said after scoring eight points.
With Jordan Crawford and John Wall carrying them offensively, and the ball swinging around nicely, the Wizards scored 68 points by halftime. But the game may have begun a turn for the worse with close to a minute left in the first period, when Wall got into a heated exchange with Kings guard Isaiah Thomas and both players were assessed technical fouls.
The exchange seemed to light a fire under Thomas as he and Marcus Thornton nearly matched the Wizards entire scoring output in the second half. Thomas and Thornton combined to go 15 of 28 (53.6 percent) and scored 34 of the Kings 55 points in the last two periods. The Wizards scored just 39 points, shot 13 of 36 (36.1 percent) and committed 14 turnovers, which led to 17 points.
“Why did we have those turnovers?” a flustered Wittman said. “When I’m double-teamed, I continue to try to do something against the double team, you’re going to turn it over, plain and simple. Plain and simple. They need to introduce themselves to some of the bigs that they never throw the ball to.”
Wittman singled out Young for taking a ridiculous 360-degree reverse layup that didn’t even touch the rim. That was in the first half, when Young missed eight of his field attempts. He missed nine more in the second half, and finished 6 of 23 from the floor while scoring 17 points.
Since scoring a season-high 35 points after drilling 7 of 8 three-pointers in a win over Portland, Young has averaged 11.8 points, hit only 7 of 25 three-pointers and shot 28.8 percent (18 for 63) over his past four games. “Towards this last stretch, it’s been kind of rough the last couple of games. The break will do me some justice,” Young said.
Kings Coach Keith Smart had no problem sitting Tyreke Evans for all but 102 seconds in second half after he had scored a rather effortless 20 in the first half. DeMarcus Cousins also sat the entire fourth quarter as Chuck Hayes helped the Kings rally to the finish.
“You’ve got to play to win. You can’t play for numbers and I thought the second half, third quarter, guys started playing for numbers instead of playing to win,” Rashard Lewis said. The Kings “played to win the game. They moved the ball around. They crashed the boards and that’s something we’ve got to do. We’ve got to do the little things to win ball games. Just like Jordan got hot in the first half, maybe it was somebody else’s turn in the second half. John Wall played well in the first half. And then we played a lot of one-on-one ball in the second half, but you can’t play to go out there with a personal vendetta against anybody or go out there and get big numbers. You got to play to win the game.”
Crawford continued his improved play since heading out west by scoring at least 20 points for the fourth time in his past games. He had 21 of his season-high 32 points in the first half, as he knocked down step back jumpers, driving layups, a corner three-pointer and even backed down Kings rookie Jimmer Fredette in the low post to convert a three-point play. Crawford appears to have fully broken out from his slump, but he occasionally got caught trying to do too much.
“That just means we got to get better, mentally and physically,” Crawford said. “Because when we get tired, we start to go back to old us and that’s what hurt us.”
Wall came one rebound shy of a triple double, as he finished with 21 points and 11 assists, but he wasn’t able to get his teammates to settle down. He gave the Wizards a 76-66 lead on a running jumper in the third quarter, but that lead was gone in less than three minutes.
“In the second half we became selfish and we didn’t play team defense and they picked us apart,” Wall said of the Kings. “They just attacked, kept running pick and rolls against us and getting into the paint and making open shots, and we came down and took tougher shots, and we just got to make easy buckets so the first half we played as a team, moved the ball, had 68 points. The second half we didn’t.”
How many more times is this routine going to continue to play out like this?