Wizards go out with a whimper in Indiana

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, right, reacts to a call as Indiana Pacers forward Paul George sits in spectators' laps after falling out of bounds during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. The Pacers won 93-66. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
You’ve got to be kidding me. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

INDIANAPOLIS – John Wall came around a Marcin Gortat screen, attracted a crowd, jumped and whipped a pass to a wide open Trevor Ariza in the left corner. So many times this season, that play has ended with Ariza dropping a three-pointer. But on this occasion, the shot hit the top of the backboard and bounded high above the shot clock.

A few possessions later, Nene missed a baseline jumper and Ariza came swooping in for a putback slam – that clanked off the front of the rim. Gortat recovered the rebound but Nene came driving along the right side of the rim and missed a layup off the left side of the backboard.

The Wizards missed 55 shots – more than twice as many as they made – on Friday night in a 93-66 loss against the Indiana Pacers. The shots managed to hit nearly every part of the rim and backboard and many hit nothing at all in Washington’s most inept offensive performance of the season – and the worst in nearly two years.

“It was one of those nights that we all dread, but we can’t do anything about it but shake it off and be ready for” Saturday against Houston, Ariza said. “Can’t think about it. It’s over. The shots that we normally hit, we didn’t hit. It’s frustrating. So frustrating. Can’t let it bother us, forget about this one.”

If only it were that simple. The team record book won’t allow the Wizards to forget about this performance, since it tied the third-lowest scoring output in franchise history. In the lockout-shortened season in 2011-12, the Wizards had games with just 64 points (on Jan. 11 in Chicago) and 65 points (on April 13 in New York). They also had a 65-point game against New Jersey on Dec. 13, 2002 and a 66-point game against Chicago on Jan. 5, 2000.

Washington had the lowest-scoring game in the NBA this season and surpassed its previous scoring low of 73, which happened to come in the Wizards’ last game against the Pacers on Nov. 29.

Bradley Beal took 18 shots and finished with 17 points. Wall took 15 shots and finished with 13 points. Nene needed 15 shots to get 12 points. Ariza took 10 shots and had seven points. And Gortat attempted eight shots and had four points.

The Wizards shot a season-low 32.1 percent from the field. But even with the abysmal shooting, the Wizards still shouldn’t have been in position to need Kevin Seraphin to make a hook shot in the final minute to avoid matching the franchise record for fewest points in a game.

Free throws were costly for the Wizards, who missed 14 of 23 attempts. Ariza and Nene combined to miss all seven of their shots from the foul line. In the second quarter, Ariza missed two free throws, then Gortat tapped the ball back to him near the foul line and Ariza hit a jumper. Ariza was fouled again a few seconds later and missed two more free throws.

“You go 9 for 23 from the free throw line? You don’t give yourself a chance to win the game,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I told them, ‘Whatever mojo we picked up here, let’s leave it here and get on the plane.’ ”

Wittman always looks forward to returning home to Indiana, especially when he arrives the night before and has a chance to enjoy a nice meal with his parents. But when the Wizards actually step on the court to play the Indiana Pacers, the fun usually ends for Wittman, whose team always finds a way to wilt at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Wizards (16-18) arrived in town on a three-game road winning streak and had claimed six of its past seven games overall away from Verizon Center. But those victories also came against teams with losing records, including the first two games of this road trip in Charlotte and New Orleans.

Washington’s struggles against the league’s better teams are beginning to become more glaring, the separation more staggering. And it didn’t help that the Pacers were hardly playing at a high level – and still won by 27 points. All-star Paul George was 2 of 14 from the field and scored a season-low eight points. Former Georgetown star Roy Hibbert had 12 points and needed a corner three-pointer to get that.

The Wizards lost for the 12th straight time in Indiana, but still had a chance despite a poor effort. Beal made back-to-back jumpers and Wall dunked to bring them with 67-57 with 10 minutes remaining.

“In the fourth, we got it back down to 10, you feel like you got a shot,” Wall said.

Beal also thought the Wizards could make a final push to steal a victory. “I think we felt that way the whole game, because we know they weren’t shooting the ball necessarily well. They weren’t playing the way we know they’re capable. They turned it around within the snap of a finger.”

The Pacers closed out the game on a 26-9 run to improve to 18-1 at home this season.

“I don’t think this is anything we need to be embarrassed about. This is a really good team, really talented, really deep team,” Gortat said. “This team was built to win the championship and they just play great. We missed a lot a shots. We can’t blame anybody, we just didn’t make shots. It’s part of the game.”

The Wizards certainly aren’t in the same title hunt as Indiana, but they can’t continue to get outclassed by quality teams. They have lost seven straight games against teams that have records of .500 or better.

“We’ve just got to figure out ways to compete with teams at that level, if that’s the level we want to play at,” Ariza said.

Right now, the Wizards are farther off than many of those eyesore shots that came out of their hands on Friday night.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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