MINNEAPOLIS — The last time Washington Wizards Coach Randy Wittman was at Target Center as a head coach, his Minnesota Timberwolves suffered a 23-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Two days after that, he was unemployed.
More than four years later, Wittman was back in the place where he worked in some capacity for nearly 13 seasons with a different team and a slightly different approach. In his third coaching stop, Wittman remains just as intense, but said he is much more patient.
That patience was put to the test on Wednesday during an 87-82 loss in which the Wizards opened with a lethargic effort defensively and closed by tossing away the basketball as if it was loose pocket change.
“Until we learn to value the ball, we’re going to have games like this,” Wittman said after watching the Wizards (19-40) commit 24 turnovers, which contributed to 30 points for the Timberwolves. “We just don’t value the basketball at all. It doesn’t hurt us to have a turnover. We just throw it all over. Almost half of their points were off our turnovers.”
Actually, almost a third of Minnesota’s points came after a Wizards miscue, but Wittman’s point was clear. After taking an eight-point lead with 9 minutes 29 seconds left, the Wizards coughed up the ball seven times and essentially gave away a game to a team that they beat by 13 points when the teams met on Jan. 25 at Verizon Center.
“In the end, we beat ourselves,” said swingman Martell Webster (11 points), who was also playing against his former team. “You can’t give the other team more ammunition. You take away half those turnovers, it’s a different outcome.”
Encouraged after scoring the final six points and leading the Wizards to a win over Philadelphia on Sunday, John Wall scored a game-high 19 points with seven assists but he also had six turnovers and two costly errors with his team trailing by one with 90 seconds remaining.
Nene missed a jumper, but after the Wizards recovered the rebound, Wall — a poor three-point shooter who had made just one of his 15 attempts entering the game — pulled up from long distance and missed badly. Center Emeka Okafor bailed him out when he chased down Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio and blocked his layup attempt.
But Rubio and reserve guard J.J. Barea trapped Wall, forcing him to spin and lose the ball, leading to a layup on the other end for Barea, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter. Then, with the Wizards down, 85-82, Wall nearly lost the ball again before Trevor Ariza recovered it, only to finish the play with an off-target three-pointer.
“I lost the game, really, when I took the three and we were down one,” Wall said , adding that the Wizards paid the price for their turnovers: “Twenty-four possessions without no shot attempts.”
Wall was feeling more confident from the perimeter after hitting two long jumpers in the final 93 seconds of the Wizards’ 90-84 win on Sunday over the 76ers. He opened the game by hitting his first five shots, all from beyond 18 feet, but he shot just 2 of 10 the rest of the way. He also had a difficult time keeping up with Rubio, who led the Timberwolves with 15 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and six steals — four came in the fourth quarter alone.