PHILADELPHIA — The initial jolt that John Wall’s return provided appears to have subsided with the Washington Wizards replacing confidence with confusion and excitement with poor execution. The Wizards lost consecutive games for the first time since Wall joined the lineup, but even more troubling, Washington didn’t start to seriously compete until it was too late and lost, 92-84, to the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center.
“You have nights like this,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “We have to figure out as a team when you have a bad a night, how you keep playing. Don’t put your head down. Don’t sulk. Don’t feel sorry for yourself.”
Finding out before the game that they wouldn’t have Bradley Beal because of a nagging right wrist injury certainly disrupted some of the chemistry and flow that the team had developed in recent weeks. Beal missed the morning shoot-around to visit a hand specialist in New York and discovered that his wrist was sprained.
And since he hadn’t packed a sport jacket, Beal had to watch an abysmal offensive performance — in which the Wizards scored 11 points in the second quarter, committed 18 turnovers and converted just 40 percent of their field goal attempts — from the locker room.
“Whenever you are missing key guys, you’re always affected. But I don’t really blame it on that,” Emeka Okafor said after recording his 11th double-double of the season with 15 points and a game-high 17 rebounds. “It just wasn’t us tonight. Just didn’t look right. I can’t really explain. It was like we were a step behind the whole game.”
Wall played a season-high 32 minutes but had easily his worst outing of the season as he only produced nine points on 3-for-12 shooting with six assists and five rebounds. He spent much of the night on the floor after crashing on drives and dives for loose balls. He also had a team-high five turnovers, punctuating his night when he tossed a cross-court pass high and out of the reach of Trevor Ariza with 26 seconds remaining.
“I just think we’re not doing a good job playing the way we’ve been playing,” Wall said. “We still taking the good shots that we’ve got and we’re not making them. Sometimes they fall, sometimes they’re not. We had a few too many turnovers forcing the issue, but we got a day off, with a practice to try to find our rhythm back.”
Nene had a team-high 16 points, Martell Webster scored 15, all in the second half, and Ariza scored 12 points off the bench for the Wizards (11-33), who actually appeared to lose their rhythm during a 96-94 loss against the Sacramento Kings on Monday, when they committed 20 turnovers and allowed Isaiah Thomas to make a game-winning runner with one second remaining. Wittman was disappointed to see the Wizards revert to some of their bad, pre-Wall habits in the loss to the Kings. Against the 76ers, the Wizards simply never found the energy to stay competitive — until it was much too late.
With Wall in the lineup, the Wizards’ first four losses were by a combined 14 points but they trailed 87-71 when Philadelphia all-star point guard Jrue Holiday made a driving layup with 6 minutes 29 seconds remaining. The Wizards went on a 13-2 run over the next five minutes and got within five points when Okafor caught a pass from Ariza and dunked. Holiday took over from there and scored the final three points of the game, including a tough jumper over Webster after getting separation with a wicked crossover dribble.
“Flat, flat, flat,” Webster said, explaining how the Wizards looked most of the night. “Philly didn’t beat us. We beat ourselves. Not going to have a perfect night every night, but we gave ourselves a fighting chance. We put ourselves out of the game and we put ourselves back in the game. It was nothing they did. I really feel like we could’ve had control of that game and could’ve won that game.”
The Wizards were reunited with Nick Young for the first time since dealing him to the Los Angeles Clippers in a three-team deal last March that yielded Nene. Young was recently inserted into the starting lineup and fired up to take on his former mates. Sporting a new haircut and a more disciplined game, Young scored 18 points but he also added four assists, a statistic that was rarely a priority during his 41 / 2 seasons in Washington. Young made two three-pointers in the third quarter, helping the 76ers build a 14-point lead, and stared down the Wizards’ bench after both baskets.
“I was talking trash the whole game. I can’t tell you what I was saying, though,” Young said with a laugh. “It was kind of tough. The first shot I took was almost an air ball, I was a little too hyped up. But it’s good to get a win against your old team.”
Webster made two free throws to bring the Wizards within 50-48 in the third quarter, but they came unglued after a series of careless possessions. Okafor grabbed a rebound but threw an outlet pass so far out front that even the speedy Wall couldn’t catch up to it. Webster then threw a pass out of bounds after failing to see Okafor cut to the basket and Nene had a pass intercepted by Holiday.
“Today,” Okafor said, “was just weird.”
The trip doesn’t get any easier with the Wizards taking on two of the Western Conference’s top teams in Memphis and San Antonio on Friday and Saturday.
“We got two more games on this road trip,” Wall said. “We can go 2-1 or 1-2, depending on how we want to come back out and compete and see what we can do these next few games.”