Wizards struggle to ‘stay with it’ against Toronto


This is really not our night. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Jordan Crawford’s last shot as a Wizard may not have come in regulation, or even on the court. Flustered that he sat for his fourth consecutive game, Crawford ripped off his shooting shirt and No. 15 jersey and tossed them into the stands on the way to the locker room after the Wizards lost to the Toronto Raptors, 96-88, at Verizon Center.

Crawford’s availability with Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline approaching has been well-documented, with the reserve shooting guard seemingly not a part of current or future plans. After having his run of the team before John Wall returned, Crawford wants a more significant role on the team and hasn’t been willing to accept not playing at all.

During a game in which the Wizards struggled to shoot and score, Crawford never got a chance to contribute and appeared disengaged as he wrapped a towel over his head, tucked it into his shirt and leaned low on the bench as if he was hiding. He yawned, cracked a few jokes, and had his embarrassing DNP-CD highlighted when some fans began chanting his name for almost a minute at the end of the third quarter.

Amused by the cheers, Crawford’s teammates looked on as the third-year shooting guard continued to chill, as if nothing was going on. When asked about Crawford’s body language on the bench, Coach Randy Wittman said, “I’m watching the game. I can’t comment on that.”

Crawford didn’t speak to reporters after game, calmly breezing by, gripping his coat before the locker room was open for post-game interviews. Bradley Beal scored a game-high 25 points and remains the only Wizard to score more points this season than Crawford, who was the team’s leading scorer up until last month. Though the Wizards have still won seven of the past 10 games that Crawford has missed, Wittman has continually said that he could still be back on the floor at any time.

“He’s like any of our other 14 guys. He’s got to stay with it. His opportunity is going to come again,” Wittman said of Crawford. “We were in a situation, leading into Detroit, winning four in a row and playing good and the rotation was such that I like. Like any of the guys that doesn’t have the opportunity to play or be in the rotation, you got to be ready, because it changes like that. I mean, [Trevor Booker] got some good minutes. I thought he gave us some good minutes. He hasn’t played a lot but he’s worked his tail off. He’s working in practice, staying ready. As did Chris [Singleton].”

Booker sat out for six consecutive games before scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. An opening night starter, Booker learned that the rotation can change at any minute after watching Singleton go from never playing to returning the lineup.

“You just got to stay ready. Chris went through the same thing and kept working out, working in practice and I did the same thing,” Booker said. “I was ready. Definitely felt bad, being my first game in a minute and we lose, but I felt I played pretty good. I felt a little new at first, but I caught my wind.”

Crawford’s bizarre behavior on the bench wasn’t the only unsettling part of the evening, with Beal openly questioning why his teammates had stopped competing in the final minute. Beal had dunked to bring the Wizards within six points with 20.9 seconds remaining and immediately ran to keep Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry from getting the ball.

DeMar DeRozan got the inbounds pass instead, but as Beal ran to trap him, it took a while for Martell Webster to join him and force DeRozan to call a timeout. DeRozan ran off nearly eight seconds and Beal ripped the ball away from him, looked back at his teammates as he held out the ball. He then asked why they had stopped playing.

“I think we gave up in the end. We have to keep battling to the end, the game is never over,” Beal said afterward.

The Wizards (15-37) have had a relatively easy time at home in recent weeks, but the Raptors presented a challenge and few were willing to accept it. Wittman was upset that the Wizards essentially gave away the last game before the all-star break and the first game after returning because of a lack of focus.

“It’s going to be hard for us, the way our team is made up, to win games like that. It’s hard to overcome,” Wittman said.

Wall had a bad night as he shot just 1 for 12 from the field, committed seven turnovers and allowed his shoulders to slouch and dropped his head his struggles continued. It might’ve been one of those rare occasions when a player had one more point (nine) than his shooting percentage (eight) in a game.

“Just didn’t make shots and made some of the passes that they got hands on,” Wall said.

Beal said Wall needs to head the advice that Wall often gave to him about how every player has a bad game. The 19-year-old rookie also said the Wizards can’t simply give into adversity.

“You hate playing bad. If you’re not playing well, the first you do is, ‘Aw, man.’ It affects your mind, it affects the rest of your play on both ends of the floor. I think as a team and as an individual, you have to be mentally tough to be able to say, ‘What else can I do to impact the game?’” Beal said. “I think that’s what I learned. Early in the year, I did the same thing. When I had bad games, I get frustrated, but I still played. If I’m not making shots, I just play good defense. There’s always things you can do, sometimes when things don’t go your way. I guess guys didn’t do that.”

Crawford didn’t get the opportunity to play, but things weren’t going his way on the bench. The dramatic shift from go-to-guy to not playing had to be baffling, but Wittman said he has the power to change his situation.

“This season is too long, up and down, that it’s going to go smooth. It’s a test of your will and character and I look at those things. As you’re building a team. Who’s handling it the right way? And who stays in it, stays ready and those are important things.”

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

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Michael Lee · February 19, 2013