Wizards lacking killer instinct in Milwaukee


(Associated Press)

MILWAUKEE – Trevor Ariza could laugh about it afterward, because he turned out fine and the Wizards won. But in the first quarter of the Wizards’ 114-107 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, Ariza’s teammate – and a fellow Trevor at that – had inadvertently knocked him in the head in a collision, sending the team into a brief panic.

On his knees, unable to find his bearings, Ariza stared at the court until he finally got up on his own volition, walked over to the bench and informed Coach Randy Wittman that he was okay.

“I was a little dizzy at first,” Ariza said. “Mr. Booker over here, ran into him, hit me all in the head.”
Trevor Booker was getting dressed nearby and explained that he was trying to go for an offensive rebound. Booker then got up, walked away and said, “I might’ve did it on purpose.”

Ariza shook his head, smiled and said, “I know he did it on purpose. That’s his thing, he just tried to injury me.”

That incident wouldn’t be the only time on Saturday that the Wizards would prove to be their own worst enemies. For the second time since the all-star break, the Wizards built a substantial lead against a weakened opponent on the road, let down their guard, got into an unnecessary scrap, and escaped with a victory in which they exerted more energy than they perhaps should have.

In their best first-half showing of the season, the Wizards jumped all over the Bucks by pushing the tempo, swinging the ball and hitting corner three-pointers. Bradley Beal hit the Wizards’ 10th three-pointer before intermission – on just 15 attempts – to give his team a 71-43 lead with 2 minutes 39 seconds left in the second period.

But with 2:13 left in the fourth quarter, that lead had been condensed to just three points – and they needed driving layup by Beal and consecutive three-pointers by Beal and John Wall to claim the victory over the team with the league’s worst record.

“The good thing is we won and as I told them, I’m never unhappy about a win, but we have to learn,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Anytime you build a 28-point lead in the second quarter, come out and not even play, we took shortcuts defensively. We just stopped playing and in turn made it a game that we had to scratch and claw to win…We’ve got to somehow learn to have a killer instinct and put a game away when you can put it away. I told some of your guys that’s been here for the last three years, that’s been beaten up, that nobody cared that you were 4-28, they came to knock the [stuffing] out of you and I want to see that turned around the other way.”

The Wizards admittedly got complacent after scoring a season-high 75 points and shot 67.4 percent in the first half. The got good looks, got them in a flurry and Bucks Coach Larry Drew said his team, “put up no resistance.”

Expecting more of the same by just stepping on the floor in the second half, the Wizards were rudely introduced to a zone defense that led to lazy jumpers and a lot of dribbling. Milwaukee scored the first 12 points of the third period, taking advantage of five Wizards’ turnovers in the first six minutes, which matched the total for the whole first half.

“We was just walking the ball up and for some reason, anybody goes zone against us, we just tighten up and start holding the ball and taking bad shots,” John Wall said. “We made this game a lot harder than it should’ve been.”

Ariza ended a nearly seven-minute scoring drought with a driving layup but the Wizards would only score 10 points in the third period, a new season low for any quarter.

As he watched the Bucks stage a comeback, outscoring the Wizards, 58-33, behind Ramon Sessions driving layups and John Henson jump hooks, the ever-laid back Ariza said he never felt any panic take over the team.

“Every team makes a run,” said Ariza,who scored eight of his game-high 28 points in the second half. “That was a large deficit that they had to come back from, I think. Once we started getting back to the right track, players started moving the ball again, felt like we got back into a rhythm and got back on track.”

The Wizards were in a similar situation on Feb. 19 against a depleted and struggling Atlanta Hawks team. They led by 20 points in the first half before going comatose and allowing the Hawks to get within one.

Fortunately, Washington got a couple of lucky threes to fall in the third – one from Wall to beat the shot clock and another beyond-halfcourt heave from Ariza – and pulling away in the fourth quarter of a 114-97 win.

After that victory in Atlanta, the Wizards had two nights to rest and get ready for a lottery team from New Orleans. Now, the Wizards have just one day to prepare for the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. Instead of Ariza playing 38 minutes and Beal and Wall playing 36, Wittman believes they could’ve let the bench handle the fourth quarter if the team had taken care of business at the start of the second half.

“This should’ve been a game I could’ve rested some guys some minutes. And that’s important coming down the stretch,” Wittman said.

Instead of waving towels and hooting for backups for most of fourth quarter, the starters were finally pulled with 10.9 seconds remaining. Lessons in wins are better than losses in some instances, because provide all of the stress without the ultimate disappointment. But Martell Webster believes that the team can’t afford to lose focus, especially with several more teams with inferior records on the schedule for the final 20 games.

“There’s no more learning from our mistakes, we’ve already done that enough,” he said. “In this league, you’ve got to kick them while they’re down. No offense, but those are games we have to win. Probably by as much as we up in the first half, got to win this game. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot.”

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