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Wizards vs. 76ers: Washington shows improvement, but struggles in loss to Philadelphia

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PHILADELPHIA — If the Washington Wizards’ final preseason game is indicative of what the upcoming season will resemble, then there will be glimpses of solid play clouded by confounding lapses to make every night a struggle of some sort.

JaVale McGee cut to the basket, caught a pass from John Wall, dunked over Philadelphia 76ers reserve Nikola Vucevic and gave him an angry stare-down one minute; Wall missed a breakaway left-handed dunk another. The defense forced a three-second violation and Andray Blatche got a standing ovation from his teammates for drawing a charge, but moments later Washington gave up back-to-back wide-open three-pointers.

The Wizards provided enough to be encouraged about, showing that they can possibly compete and overcome off-shooting nights if they simply play hard and with a concentrated effort. But they also revealed that there is still plenty of room for improvement during a 101-94 loss to the 76ers at a nearly empty Wells Fargo Center.

“Overall I was pleased,” Coach Flip Saunders after the Wizards were swept by the 76ers, posting their first winless preseason since the 1991-92 Bullets went 0-8. “I feel pretty good, as far as where we’re at. But I feel our guys feel good.”

The Wizards proved that they aren’t nearly as terrible as they appeared in their preseason debut last Friday, when they trailed by 40 points in the third quarter and could only take solace that it wouldn’t count against the 66-game regular season record. With less than a week to prepare for their season opener against the New Jersey Nets, roles still remain undefined, a hierarchy on offense has yet to be established and a consistent and sustained effort on both ends remains absent.

But the Wizards had to approach their final preseason game against the 76ers with a certain amount of urgency, and for the most part, they did.

They welcomed back Nick Young, who re-signed with the team the day before, and Trevor Booker, who missed the first few days of training camp recovering from a bruised right thigh injury that he suffered while playing in Israel during the lockout.

Young scored eight points in about 16 minutes off the bench, but was noticeably rusty after going through just one jet-lagged practice the day before.

“This lockout caught up to me today,” Young said after going just 3 of 10 from the field. “I got tired kind of early.”

Young came up short on his first jumper, but made a three-pointer from the right corner, then dropped a soft pull-up jumper as he got fouled by 76ers forward Thaddeus Young. But it didn’t take long before Nick Young was looking toward the bench in search of a breather.

“He’s got to get in better shape,” Saunders said. “There is no question, when he got tired and his legs gave, everything went a little haywire. When he hit that brick wall, he was searching for oxygen in the arena.”

Booker didn’t show any signs of fatigue in his preseason debut, as he led the team with 11 rebounds. Saunders said before the game that he “felt” Booker in practice and that energy carried over as he and rookie Shelvin Mack (seven points, five rebounds, three assists) played so well that Saunders relied on them, and let starters Blatche and Wall rest for most of the fourth quarter.

“We competed. We learned from the last game. Guys gave a lot more effort. We put ourselves in position to win,” Blatche said after scoring 13 points with a team-leading five assists. “I feel we’re getting better. We’ve got to build off this game right here.”

McGee led the Wizards with 20 points and added nine rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots and also proved to be consistent in the low post with a much-improved jump hook, which he spent most of the offseason working on.

“I feel it’s really coming into fruition right now,” McGee said of his hook shot. “I was definitely trying to rebound and get in good position to get rebounds, or be around the ball to tip it out. We just kept at it and we made sure we corrected our mistakes.”

The Wizards played much better on the defensive end, limiting the 76ers to just 41.7 percent shooting and forcing 20 turnovers. They also had more assists (16) than turnovers (13). But they still appeared disjointed offensively, with the team shooting just 35 percent and going 2 of 18 from beyond the three-point line. Wall and Jordan Crawford combined to score 35 points but they also shot a combined 11 of 35 from the field. Wall still believes that the Wizards will be ready for season opener.

“It just depends on what team is going to come out and compete every night. If we don’t come out and compete, same thing will happen as Friday, lose by 40 almost,” Wall said. “The main thing is, we played hard.”

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