INDIANAPOLIS — The bad break for the Washington Wizards came moments before the opening tip, when Nene informed Coach Randy Wittman he wasn’t going to be able to play against the Indiana Pacers because of soreness in his right Achilles’ tendon.
The bad bounces would quickly follow for the Wizards as plays that usually are routine suddenly became torturous adventures. Early in the first quarter of their 93-73 loss on Friday to the Indiana Pacers, John Wall sprinted down the middle of the lane, but as he elevated for a layup, the ball slipped from his hands and into the grasp of Pacers all-star Paul George. George missed a jumper on the other end, but Marcin Gortat and Jan Vesely — who started in place of Nene — fought each other for the rebound, and the ball landed in the hands of Pacers guard Lance Stephenson, who flipped a no-look, over-the-head pass to George and kicked out his legs as the layup dropped.
To beat the team with the NBA’s best record, the Wizards either needed to be at full strength or playing at an optimal level. Possibly both. The Wizards (7-9) were neither, which resulted in an embarrassing defeat that was filled with some blooper-reel worthy moments and a forgettable performance.
“What can you say? You’re not going to have it every night. They outplayed us. They outhustled us,” Martell Webster said after the team’s three-game win streak ended. Not having Nene “was very tough, but we still know the way that we’re supposed to play and everybody on this team is capable of playing. We just didn’t live up to our own expectations, and we ended up paying for it.”
Gortat led the team with 17 points and 10 rebounds and Trevor Ariza had 14, but no other Wizards player scored in double figures as Washington lost for the 11th straight time at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. In his last meeting with Indiana, Wall dominated the Pacers by scoring 37 points on 16-for-25 shooting. But that game was last season at Verizon Center. Indiana (15-1) has yet to lose at home this season and did a solid job of clogging the lane and forcing Wall to be a jump shooter. Wall finished with just eight points on 4-for-14 shooting.
“Bad night shooting. I had good looks, just the ones I’ve been making in the past I didn’t make,” said Wall, who had nine assists. “I still think we had a chance, and we could’ve made it a more competitive game, but they do what most teams are supposed to do. When you’re up, you got to step your foot on them, take them out of the game. That’s what they did.”
Washington was able to hang only for one half before it got bludgeoned by the smooth shooting of George (game-high 23 points), the interior scoring of Roy Hibbert (13 points, with 10 in the third quarter), the passing of Stephenson (10 assists) and a smothering defense that held the Wizards to 40.3 percent shooting and zero fast-break points. The Wizards also committed 18 turnovers, which the Pacers converted into 26 points.
“They’re a good overall team,” Trevor Booker said of the Pacers. “They played good defense and scored inside-out. They’re clicking on all cylinders right now. I just think they played a better game than us. They took us out of it early. We tried to come back, but we just didn’t have it.”
The Wizards entered the game ranked second in the NBA in fast-break points at 18.6 per game but were at a disadvantage in a half-court battle without one of their best interior scorers — and with Wall showing the same lack of burst that slowed him in the win against Milwaukee. Wittman wanted the Wizards to push the tempo and get out on the run, but Pacers Coach Frank Vogel clearly made getting back on defense a point of emphasis.
When the Wizards had opportunities to run, they failed to execute when given the opportunity. On a two-on-two break in the first half, Wall hit Webster near the basket, but the latter pulled back and the play ended with Wall throwing a bad pass to Gortat that got picked off by David West. Then, in the fourth quarter, Ariza got a steal and threw the ball out ahead to Webster. But a potential two-on-one break ended with Webster unable to control the pass and slapping the ball out of bounds.
“They’re a good team. I’ll give them credit,” said Ariza, who was looking forward to gauging where the Wizards were against the Pacers, “but some of the mistakes we made, we made on our own. We had opportunities but found a way to mess that up on our own a couple of times.”
Washington showed some resilience in defeating the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee in its first two games without Bradley Beal, but the team was given a daunting task without Nene as well. Nene missed two games because of a strained right calf earlier this season, and the Wizards are now 0-3 this season and are 7-31 overall without Nene since acquiring him from Denver in March 2012. Nene is listed as day-to-day, and his availability for Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks is in doubt.
“That’s not an excuse. Indiana beat us tonight, and it hasn’t nothing to do with who wasn’t available,” Wittman said. “It’s tough with Bradley along with him. It happens with every league in the team. I mean, every team in the league.”