Wittman may not have been able to get the desired reaction from the officials early on Monday, but had done a decent job of getting his players to ditch many of their bad habits in his first 14 games since taking over for Flip Saunders.
And through the first 28 minutes against the Phoenix Suns, the Wizards had played well enough to take a one-point lead in the third period, before collapsing under a disgusting eight-minute sequence of one-on-one play and absent defense. The Suns used an incredible 31-6 run to end the third quarter, which propelled them to a decisive 104-88 win at US Airways Center.
“I told them, I’m not going to put up with that,” Wittman said after the Wizards lost to the Suns for the 10th consecutive time. “I believe we were up one and go on the most selfish spree of basketball since I’ve taken over. I’ve got to find the right people to play the right way. I’m not letting that slip back in. We’ve got to nip this now. We fought this and we can’t let it come back.”
The Wizards (7-25) have had several second-half breakdowns this season, but their third-quarter collapse was perhaps most perplexing since they had effectively used their speed and athleticism to counter the Suns’ savvy and skill for much of the game. But they could only last for so long, before Suns Coach Alvin Gentry switched to a neutralizing zone. The Wizards collapsed, missing 14 of 16 shots to end the third period, and they will now return home having lost their final three games of a five-game road trip by a combined 48 points.
“One of the craziest runs,” forward Chris Singleton said. “We were in Houston [last month], they went on a -0 run. It’s got to stop. We there. We in the games. We’ve just got to be grown men and play.”
Jordan Crawford led the Wizards with 20 points, Booker had 16 points and eight rebounds but Nick Young struggled from the floor for the third game in a row, scoring just six points and missing 10 of his 13 shots as Suns 39-year-old forward and Reston native Grant Hill put the clamps on him defensively.
Young had carried the Wizards offensively through their first two wins against Detroit and Portland, as he scored a combined 57 points. But he was held to just 34 combined points in losses to the Los Angeles Clippers, Utah and Phoenix.
“I’ve just got to get my flow back,” Young said. “I wasn’t in it. It was tough out there for me. I was trying out there on defense. But the last few games, I’ll say I stunk it up. I’ve got to do better. It’s very disappointing. I just missed a lot of open shots, I wished I could take back.”
The Wizards (7-25) certainly couldn’t blame the loss on fatigue, since they had two days to prepare for the Suns, giving them plenty of time to rest and recuperate from the grueling lockout condensed schedule. They held a nearly two-hour practice on Sunday and Wittman used that time to sell the team on the importance of finishing this five-game road trip with a win, since the Wizards hadn’t recorded a winning record on a trip of at least five games in seven years. They still haven’t.
The Wizards also failed to stage a truly competitive game in either contest, with all five games decided by at least 14 points. They are now 3-13 on the road.
The Suns were coming off an impressive win over the Los Angeles Lakers the night before, as they built a 27-point lead and held on to win 102-90. The Wizards were able to hang around through the first half, and Booker converted a three-point play to give the Wizards a 55-54 lead with 8:13 left in the third period.
“That stretch in the third, we were confident,” Booker said. “Then we got selfish. That hurt us.”
Phoenix scored 16 unanswered points, as the Wizards missed the next eight shots and Young made a poor pass to rookie Jan Vesely for a turnover. And, after Steve Nash (12 points, 11 assists) hit a jumper to give the Suns a 70-55 lead, Booker converted another three-point play, before reserve Michael Redd came off the bench to score eight of his 14 points over the final three minutes of the period.
“A team goes on a 31-6 run? That’s inexcusable,” said John Wall, who posted 10 points, six assists and six rebounds and sat the entire fourth quarter like Nash, but obviously for different reasons. “We stopped playing as a team. Stopped moving the ball. We weren’t making shots and they made it tough when they went zone and they made a lot of shots.”
Marcin Gortat had 20 points and Channing Frye had 19 points and 11 rebounds for the Suns (14-19). JaVale McGee had 10 points and nine rebounds for the Wizards, who will conclude the first half of the season with a home game against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday at Verizon Center.