Washington Wizards guard John Wall drove into the lane to find Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert the large impediment to his path, so he tried to get around him the only way he saw fit: Wall leaped, made a 360-degree spin and short-armed a finger roll that barely grazed the front of the rim.
Wall tried the move again in the second half of the Wizards’ 109-96 loss to the Pacers on Wednesday night at Verizon Center. Driving baseline, he spun to avoid contact but his off-balance shot soared about two feet over the other side of the basket.
Wall has been slumping and his struggles have been magnified as he attempts to lead his depleted team through a grinding, unforgiving schedule. His teammates have advised Wall to play through it. His coach has told him not to make the situation more complicated than it needs to be.
“I think he needs to take a step back and simplify things. He’s trying to maybe do too much, too fast right now to fight through how he’s played the last couple of games,” Coach Randy Wittman said after the Wizards (12-42) lost their third in a row. “Sometimes it’s easier to take a step back and slow down. It’s not an easy thing to do. He’s a competitive kid who wants to play well and wants to play the right way and sometimes, you just get going the opposite way when you struggle a little bit.”
Wall missed 11 of his 15 field goal attempts, and even his made shots were taxing. His first made field goal required a crossover dribble, spin move and fadeaway jumper over Pacers reserve Tyler Hansbrough. Wall finished with 13 points, with three assists and a game-high five turnovers in just 28 minutes — his fewest in more than two months — but took a measured approach to his problems of late.
“Sometimes when things aren’t going your way, you have to keep playing basketball,” Wall said, adding that the season “ain’t taking a toll at all. It’s ups and downs, but it also takes me working on my game and getting better.”
With Wall in the midst of his worst slump of the season — over his past 10 games, he is averaging 12.4 points and shooting just 32.8 percent — the Wizards relied heavily on Jordan Crawford against Pacers. And the ever-ready-to-shoot Crawford was more than up for the challenge in the first half, scoring 21 of his game-high 28 points and helping the Wizards enter the locker room trailing 52-51.
Crawford was credited with 22 shots, but he claimed to have only taken 21 in light of one bizarre sequence. With the Wizards trailing 67-63 in the third period, Jan Vesely attempted a two-handed dunk but Hibbert (13 points, four blocks) swatted it in the opposite direction. Vesely quickly responded by stealing the ball from David West and passing ahead to Crawford, who attempted to throw an alley-oop lob to Vesely. But Paul George slapped away the pass, setting up a jumper by Danny Granger.
“Did it look like I shot? I was passing it,” Crawford said. “You know, I shoot a lot so they added to the field goals.”
Granger had 20 points to lead the Pacers, whose starters shot 70.7 percent.
Indiana (33-21) maintained its hold on the third seed in the Eastern Conference by sweeping the three-game season series against the Wizards. The Pacers had won the first two meetings by a combined six points, needing to rally back from 22 points down to defeat the Wizards in Nene’s home debut two weeks and from eight down last week in Indiana.
The obvious difference from the previous games against the Pacers? The Wizards were playing without Nene and Trevor Booker, who each sat for the third consecutive game with left plantar fasciitis. Washington has surrendered more than 100 points and allowed its opponents to shoot better than 50 percent in its past two games.
The Pacers shot the best field goal percentage of any Wizards opponent this season (57.9 percent). Wittman only used nine players as reserve swingman Maurice Evans sat for the sixth straight game. Wittman said that nothing was wrong with Evans, adding, “I didn’t think Mo was going to do any better on Hibbert.”
Playing the first of three games in three nights, the Wizards already looked run-down. Kevin Seraphin had a career high with 19 points and added 10 rebounds, but despite making the most of his opportunities while starting in place of Nene, he hasn’t been able to take any solace from his increased production.
“I’m glad but I’m not happy because we lost. Usually people want the win. [The career-high point total] doesn’t mean anything. I want to win the game,” Seraphin said. “That’s difficult without those guys. It’s tough to play without them. We get tired. That’s why we lost the game.”
Brian Cook had his best game since joining the Wizards — and best of the season — with 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench. But he admitted that it is tough for players to stay motivated and maintain the necessary focus with the finish line within range and few reinforcements on deck.
“They’ve been going through it all year,” Cook said. “We’ve got  games left. I think it’s a little human nature to think that way. We have Nene out. We have [Booker] out. We have Rashard [Lewis] out. I think if we had our full team, we’d be a lot better.”