Wizards vs. Grizzlies: After fast start, Washington fades to an 85-76 loss

February 1, 2013

John Wall stopped, grimaced, looked back and collapsed to the floor. As play continued on the other end of the court, Wall was flat on his back, tapping on his left shoulder and writhing in pain. Washington Wizards head athletic trainer Eric Waters rushed to his aid as Wall kicked out his right leg and covered his face with his right elbow.

“I was scared,” Wall said of his second quarter fall, “like, ‘I can’t catch a break.’ That’s all I was thinking.”

When Wall finally got up, with the assistance of Waters, and headed to the locker room — hunched over and holding his left shoulder — the Wizards could only assume the worst; since for much of the season, that’s been the only news that they have received.

Turned out, Wall would only miss the rest of the half. But getting Wall back did little to help the Wizards avoid their scoring doldrums as they lost their third consecutive game, 85-76, to the Memphis Grizzlies.

Wall had nine points, seven rebounds and six assists in just 23 minutes for the Wizards, who only had one player score in double figures and were limited to just 46 points in the final three quarters. The problems began in the second period, when the new-look Grizzlies limited them to a season-low 10 points, with the Wizards missing 12 consecutive shots.

The Post Sports Live crew discusses the Wizards’ gradual improvement and look ahead to a tough stretch of games that should be a good litmus test for the team’s newfound success. (Post Sports Live)

“We stopped throwing the ball inside and you’ve got to know that feel of the game,” Coach Randy Wittman said after the Wizards lost their eighth consecutive game at FedEx Forum after winning the first game ever played in the arena on Nov. 3, 2004. “Things aren’t going a certain way, you’ve got to combat that. We went away from playing inside-out and just took perimeter shots. That hurt us.”

The Wizards (11-34) are 6-6 since Wall returned from a stress injury in his left knee, but they have played the past two games without rookie guard Bradley Beal, who sat again with a sprained right wrist. Beal said before the game that he would take as much time as necessary for his wrist to heal.

“I’m not going to rush back,” said Beal, who was honored as Eastern Conference rookie of the month earlier in the day. He played six games with the injury and added that “it hurts like heck.”

Nene led the team with 14 points but he shot just 7 of 16 from the field, with the Memphis big man tandem of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph making it hard for the Wizards to generate much inside. Four others — Martell Webster, Emeka Okafor, Kevin Seraphin and Jordan Crawford — each had eight as the Wizards failed to score at least 80 points for the first time since Wall returned. They are averaging just 90.9 points in their past eight games, going 3-5 in those contests, after averaging 104.8 points and going 3-1 in their first four games with Wall.

“I think we need to play more hard, and more smart and sometime, we need to take it more personal,” Nene said. “Like: ‘I’m going to beat my man. I’m going to guard him.’ We need to have pride. Pride you can’t teach and you can’t tell. You have it or not. That’s the difference. That’s how they play on us.”

The Wizards opened the game missing their first five shots, with Nene and Webster both hitting the opposite side of the backboard on jumpers. But they quickly settled in and began connecting from all over and made 15 of their next 23 shot attempts. Crawford even pulled up from 27 feet to hit a deep three-pointer in front of a stunned Tony Allen.

Trevor Booker made a bank shot to put the Wizards ahead 34-25 with 10 minutes 23 seconds left in the second quarter but the team would miss its next 11 attempts and the Grizzlies drew even at 34 when newcomer Ed Davis made a free throw. The Wizards lost Wall during the scoreless drought, as he took a pass from Trevor Ariza, accelerated toward the basket and got hammered on his left arm by Davis as he attempted a runner in the lane. Wall bounced off Grizzlies guard Jerryd Bayless and fell to the ground but no foul was called. After the game, Wittman stared at the box score with befuddlement.

“To get three free throws? C’mon. I don’t understand,” Wittman said. “As much as we threw it inside and attacked the rim? I don’t know.”

Wall said he expects to be available when the Wizards conclude their three-game trip on Saturday in San Antonio. “If nothing is broke and I can run and jump, I feel like I can play through any type of pain. If it’s sore, I’ll play through it. But if something comes up that it’s injured, I won’t. I think everything is fine.”

Memphis guard Mike Conley led five Grizzlies in double figures with 18 points. Gasol had a double-double with 13 points and 15 rebounds. Randolph was limited to seven points but added 11 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who were coming off a 106-89 loss in Oklahoma City the night before and playing their first home game since trading leading scorer Rudy Gay to Toronto in a three-team deal that yielded Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye from Detroit and Davis from the Raptors.

Prince, who was the last remaining member of the Pistons 2004 championship team before getting dealt on Wednesday, received a standing ovation from the Grizzlies fans and scored 14 points in his debut, connecting on two huge jumpers in the final three minutes.

“They lost some scoring in Rudy, an isolation player, but Tayshaun is a player that fits in great with what they have going, because he can do a little bit of everything,” Ariza said. “They got a little more length now and they play probably a little better defense, but they’re still a good team, either way.”

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