Martell Webster missed a free throw that could’ve given the Wizards a one-point lead with 17.2 seconds remaining in regulation, then Jordan Crawford went on a dribbling display and missed a long jumper that led to overtime.
Bradley Beal missed a wide-open three-pointer with 7.8 seconds left in overtime, then Chris Singleton missed one of three free throws with a chance to win and the Wizards had to settle for another overtime. And finally, Beal missed another three-pointer in the final 16 seconds of the second overtime and the Wizards lost 108-106 to the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Wizards had several other breakdowns in the final minutes of regulation and both overtimes, but Coach Randy Wittman, at wits’ end with his team’s 0-11 start, wasn’t going to criticize the effort of his players.
How could he? When Nene was out there on one good foot, hustling and dunking to get a notch in the win column? When Webster put the Wizards in position to win in regulation by forcing a jump ball and recovering possession? When Beal and Singleton both had double doubles and scrapped for loose ball?
“I’m not pointing my finger at my players,” Wittman said. “Obviously, it lies with me and I know it lies with me and I’ve got to figure a way to get this righted. That’s what my job is. And I’ll take full responsibility for that.”
Wittman lost his job in Minnesota when the Timberwolves went on a 13-game losing streak in 2008-09. Flip Saunders lost his job after a 2-15 start last season. But it would be an incredible accomplishment for the Wizards to go 2-4 in their next six games and match the horrible start that opened the door for Wittman to get the job.
The next six games are against San Antonio, Portland, New York, Miami, Atlanta and Golden State. None of those teams currently has a losing record and two of those games are on the road in arenas where the Wizards have had little success. Somehow, though, Beal believes the Wizards have what it takes for a turnaround.
“We just lost. Everybody hates losing. You just see the guys faces, it’s like depression. We haven’t won a game yet,” Beal said. “We still have  more games. It’s still a long season. We still have our opportunity to get over .500. Right now, it’s our goal we have to shoot for, is to probably get into the playoffs. We’re going to make it. I have faith in this team. I have confidence in us. I think we’re more than capable of doing it, with the assets that we have. As long as guys keep buying in and never give up, we’ll be fine.”
The Wizards are now the 12th team in NBA history to open a season with 11 straight losses, and they wasted their latest, best chance against a Bobcats team that was on the second end of back-to-back games and missing three of its best players in the final overtime period.
“You can’t get any closer than we’ve been getting,” Crawford said.
They have lost three games in overtime, including the two past games against Atlanta and Charlotte by a combined three points.
Nene has come back from plantar fasciitis in his left foot earlier than he perhaps should’ve, but there is no denying the influence that he has had on the team. The contrast when Nene plays and sits is so vast that Wittman could be forgiven for being tempted to leave him on the floor for the entire 48-plus minutes. Wittman brought Nene off the bench, played him half the game, and the Wizards were outscored by 24 points when he sat. Again, they lost by two.
“I have no choice, I tried helping my team. I knew my limitation, but I try to help my team. That’s why they brought me there, to play the whole minutes I play,” Nene said after scoring 19 points. “I tried to step every moment to help my team get better shot, better pass or on defense, and we work really hard. At the same time, we need to play as one, everybody on the court, and we need to keep fighting, keep playing hard.”
The Wizards’ starters combined to score just 38 points and got down by double digits in the first quarter and at the start of the third. Wittman has used three different starting lineups, all based on a lack of production instead of injuries, and he blamed himself for the slow starts that consistently force the team to dig.
“Obviously, I’m not pushing the right buttons or pulling the right strings right now. I’ll continue to try to figure that out,” Wittman said. “I’ll continue to work at trying to find a starting combination, people to play. That’s my job.”
Beal said Wittman is not the reason why the team remains winless. “As much as he wants to take credit for it, the game is in our hands. He’s not the one to blame; it’s us. That just shows his leadership. I even blame myself. I had an opportunity to sieze the game and I didn’t. Coach Witt, we’re all buying into him. We love him to death. He wants the best for us.”
Wittman’s arguably biggest blunder wasn’t necessarily starting the ineffective Jan Vesely for the fourth consecutive game and getting limited production. But he may have been better off using one of his point guards – Shaun Livingston or A.J. Price – in either the first or second overtime. He also admitted that Nene was “gassed” down the stretch but never called on Emeka Okafor, who had 11 points and seven rebounds in just 21 minutes.
Wittman left the ball in Crawford’s hands and the offense looked disheveled and without structure. Plays consistently broke down and the Wizards committed three combined turnovers in the overtimes.
Nene was 3 of 6 in the extra frames, while his teammates were 1 of 11, with Beal making a three-pointer that brought the Wizards within one with 1.6 seconds remaining.
“He’s doing everything, searching for lineups, searching for answers,” Crawford said of Wittman. “If everybody come in and work every day, it’s going to turn around…It’s tough, but this shows, right now in a tough situation, shows who’s a man or not, who can hold their up high and keep going. This is still a blessing, an opportunity to play every night the game that I love. I’m still excited every day.”