Randy Wittman grew up in Indianapolis rooting for Indiana Pacers, loving the red, white and blue ABA ball and those old Marathon Oil Company trading cards and prints. He won a championship playing for Bobby Knight a few miles down the road in Bloomington, Ind.
His NBA career ended with his hometown team, with him assisting Reggie Miller through the early years of a Hall of Fame career. And his coaching career started when Pacers president Donnie Walsh convinced him to take a position on then-coach Bob Hill’s staff.
Though he now works in Washington and maintains an offseason home in Minnesota, Wittman said, “This is home for me. I still call it home.”
Wittman always enjoys being back in Indianapolis, where his extended family dwells and where he had so many friends and supporters in attendance that he didn’t have time to name all of them. But being home has rarely yielded success for Wittman or the Wizards, and both extended losing streaks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday with an 89-85 loss to the Pacers.
The Wizards have lost nine consecutive games in Indiana, dating back to April 18, 2007. Wittman has won as a head coach in his hometown since Dec. 15, 2000, when he was coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has lost his past two games as coach of the Wizards, with another loss coming five seasons ago when he was with Minnesota.
Trevor Booker’s off-target jump hook with 3.6 seconds left ended the Wizards’ chances of winning on Saturday, but Wittman chose to focus on several other breakdowns and scoring droughts that could’ve spared the team from having to rely on a late rally to get in position to tie the game.
“We’re learning, we’re making progress, but you know it’s tough,” Wittman said.
The Wizards led by six points late in the first quarter when Kevin Seraphin had a vicious dunk, but they let the Pacers score the final seven points of the period. They led 47-40 when A.J. Price hit a long jumper near the end of the first half, but got outscored 9-2 the rest of the second period to enter the locker room tied at 99.
And, Jordan Crawford buried a deep three-pointer to give the Wizards a 75-70 lead to start the fourth quarter but they went 3½ minutes without a field goal as the Pacers scored 10 unanswered points.
“One of our problems is that we turn the ball over too much towards the end of” quarters, Beal said. “We’re hesitant in our movement and our passes and a lot of other things. We have the parts we need, it’s putting it all together and having better execution.”
Wittman also griped about how his team had just seven free throw attempts for the second time this season.
“I don’t understand the respect thing, but we’ve got keep going,” Wittman said.
Price played his best game as a Wizard, scoring 12 points and handing out a career-high 14 assists with no assists, but he accepted blame for his team’s shortcomings in the fourth quarter.
The Wizards scored just 13 points in the final period and made just five field goals while committing six turnovers. Beal and Webster both had two.
“Our execution down the stretch is not where it needs to be right now and that falls on the point guard,” Price said. “I need to get us the right sets and make sure we get a shot, each and every time.”
Price was certainly looking forward to getting a win against his former team, and prove that they may have made a mistake by letting him leave for nothing in the offseason. But after limiting George Hill to just eight points and doubling the assist total of Hill and his backup D.J. Augustin, Price had to accept a fifth consecutive loss.
“It’s a game that I definitely wanted to win,” Price said.
Crawford was also seeking a win in the state where his college career began at Indiana. He transferred to Xavier after his freshman year. On Saturday against the Pacers, Crawford generated some gasps as he made three three-pointers, all of them showcasing his “in the gym” range.
The Pacers clearly took note of his unconscious shooting, because they were unwilling to let him get free in the closing seconds. David West and Paul George trapped Crawford at the three-point line to get the ball out of his hands and he fed Booker, who couldn’t connect on his hook shot.
“They was making sure I wouldn’t get the shot off and Book was open,” Crawford said. “We got a good look, though.”
Crawford also heard the usual heckles from fans who remember when he played for the Hoosiers.
“I be wondering what the fans are going to say all the time. They always got some good stuff for me,” Crawford said with a grin. “When I was taking out [the ball], one of ‘em was like, ‘I’m glad you left IU.’ So it’s always some good stuff coming back here.”
It would’ve been better for Wittman, Price and Crawford, if the “good stuff’ in Indiana included a win.