DENVER — Starting with Trevor Ariza throwing a behind-the-back pass to seated cameramen along the baseline and ending with Ariza batting the ball between his legs and into the hands of Denver Nuggets reserve Darrell Arthur, the Wizards chose an inopportune time and a ghastly way to give away a game.
In between those Ariza gaffes, John Wall made several jump passes to the wrong team and tried to force the ball into places where it wouldn’t end well. Marcin Gortat also got into the mix, letting balls slip from his hands and even followed Wall’s lead with a jump-pass to nowhere.
In their quest to earn a split on an important West Coast trip, the Wizards spit up on themselves and committed a season-high 24 turnovers during a 105-102 loss to the Nuggets that could’ve had a different outcome if the ball had been treated with more value.
“This is always a tough game to end your West Coast trip in Denver and in these situations, you need to take care of the ball and value the basketball,” said Drew Gooden, who wasn’t credited with any turnovers – but only because the scorekeeper mistakenly assigned his errant pass to his bald-with-a-headband brother Al Harrington.
The Wizards’ poor management of the basketball didn’t cost them on Friday because the unusually bad Los Angeles Lakers were too much of a mess to capitalize. Coach Randy Wittman was still unnerved afterward and warned his players about being careless with the ball after matching a then-season-high with 20 turnovers to turn a game that should’ve been a breeze into an unnecessary whirlwind.
“When we get in trouble, we dribble too much, we overdribble, which turns into turnovers,” Wittman said after the Wizards’ 117-107 victory in which they let a 21-point lead get whittled down to seven. “I don’t know how many times we dribble, dribble, dribble, then gave it to a guy with one second on the shot clock and said shoot it. When we’re moving the ball, like we have, and we don’t over-dribble, we’re a good team.”
So how did the Wizards respond the next time out? By being even sloppier with the ball during a three-point defeat in which they spotted the Nuggets 30 points off turnovers.
Wall had twice as many miscues (eight) as assists (four) against the Nuggets and said afterward, “Can’t win a game like that on the road.”
Or anywhere for that matter. The Wizards might’ve been able to survive a high turnover game from Wall if Ariza didn’t have four turnovers for the second game in a row and Gortat hadn’t also matched his season high with four as well. That trio combined to have more turnovers than the Nuggets (15).
The Wizards’ problems began shortly after they built a 25-11 lead. Wall lost the ball to Jan Vesely, setting up a Randy Foye three-pointer, then threw the ball again to Vesely, which resulted in a Vesely two-hand slam. Washington entered the second period leading only by eight, failing to get up a shot at the end of the first quarter as Wall left his feet for another bad pass that, again, got intercepted by Vesely.
“First quarter, we came out and played through our system, moving the ball, guys in right spots, screening, passing, moving. All of a sudden we were up 14 and from there it just stopped,” Wittman said on Sunday. “It’s the same thing over and over. … Ball movement stops, our stuff stops. Dribbling takes over. Bad shots take over. All of a sudden and it’s tied up. Then you know it’s a ball game.”
The Wizards shot better from the floor and had more rebounds but had six fewer shot attempts than Denver. They let the Nuggets hang around and failed to learn any lessons from their inability to finish out quarters in Sacramento, Portland and Los Angeles.
In the final two minutes of the first quarter and third quarter in Denver, the Wizards combined to commit eight turnovers and were outscored, 18-6.
“You got to give credit where it’s due. I think they had some great schemes,” Bradley Beal said after scoring a game-high 21, “but at the same time, it was just us kind of us being indecisive and not being aggressive enough and not doing things we normally do. I think sometimes, I was trying to make passes when I probably had shots I should’ve took. We just got to be smarter.”
Wall found Gooden for a layup that put the Wizards up 73-71 with 1:50 left in the third period, but entered the fourth quarter trailing by four because they committed five turnovers on the next six possessions.
Martell Webster slipped and fell along the baseline, then Gooden got a steal and threw the ball too far out ahead to Wall, which led to a turnover and layup by Kenneth Faried. Wall then threw a pass while falling down directly to Ty Lawson that led to two free throws on the other end for Faried. And after Ariza made a bad inbounds pass to Beal, Aaron. Brooks made a floater over Wall that put the Nuggets ahead 77-73. And for good measure, Wall tried to throw the ball the length of the court to get a quick score but the pass was picked off by Evan Fournier.
“We can’t just come out and play,” Wittman said. “When we have success during the game, it’s the same thing, we’re up 21 against the Lakers and throw the ball all over the place. We’ve got to somehow handle the success that we have in a game better than we do.”
Wall has had eight or more turnovers in a game just six times in his career but he had a rough time holding on to the ball on the road trip. He had 22 in the four games, including 14 combined against the Lakers and Nuggets.
Denver went with a three-guard set with Lawson, Brooks and Foye, which posed a few matchup problems but Wall didn’t feel his struggles were because of the Nuggets’ defense.
“Just careless turnovers, overdribbling, especially with me jumping in the air looking for passes, where guys could’ve been but we didn’t do a great job of spacing and that kind of hurt us,” Wall said. “Basically they stayed in the game a lot longer than they should’ve. They kept making shots and sticking around. Started coming out and trapping me a little bit. I tried to make the right pass, sometimes they tipped it and got a hand on it. But it was little careless turnovers that cost us this game.”