The Washington Wizards had three days to rest, relax and gloat about reaching the modest accomplishment of reaching .500 at this point in December for the first time since 2007. They were at home, where they’ve been dominant, against the team with the worst record in the NBA. And Otto Porter Jr., their top pick from last June’s draft, was set to make his NBA debut after being sidelined for nearly three months with a strained right hip flexor.
It was the perfect time for a team that hasn’t experienced much prosperity in recent years to build upon the momentum of a five-game home winning streak and extend a positive run that had Marcin Gortat discussing the possibility of winning 50 games.
Despite John Wall’s best efforts to will the Wizards to victory – even after the team lost both Martell Webster and Nene to injury – they drop-kicked the opportunity with an ugly performance against the Milwaukee Bucks that resulted in a 109-105 overtime loss.
“It was carefree, unlike the last two weeks,” Coach Randy Wittman said, describing the mood in the locker room before the game. “I told our guys, we could be in a little trouble.”
The Wizards (9-10) fell into an early 15-point hole, but Wall almost single-handedly brought them back with an electrifying second-half performance filled with demoralizing blocks and clutch shots. Wall finished with 30 points and eight assists and gave his team a 102-97 lead with 54.9 seconds left in regulation. But the Wizards allowed the Bucks to score the final five points to force overtime, then missed all six of their shots in the extra frame.
Trailing by three points late in overtime, the Wizards, completely gassed, were setting up a play when Trevor Ariza (22 points) accidentally bumped Wall out of bounds, sending fans to the exits.
The Wizards now have to deal with more injury woes. Just as they were welcoming Porter, the Wizards watched two more important pieces go down. Webster, the Wizards’ leader in minutes played the past nine games, sprained his ankle after missing a desperation three-pointer as time expired at the end of the first period. Nene left in the second half with tendinitis in his right foot.
“Can’t catch a break,” Wall said. “That’s all I can really say. We can’t catch a break.”
Webster crumpled to the ground and started writhing in agony until he was assisted to the locker room by athletic trainer Eric Waters and Kevin Seraphin, who was inactive after developing some swelling in his right knee.
Wittman inserted Porter, the former Georgetown star, at the start of the second quarter and fans at Verizon Center immediately stood up, applauded and chanted, “Ot-to! Ot-to!” Clearly showing nerves, Porter was called for traveling shortly after he touched the ball, then collected a foul 10 seconds later. His bad start trifecta was complete a few minutes later when his first shot attempt was an air ball.
“I’m still emotional,” Porter said afterward. “First game. Something I’ve been working my whole life for. All in all, I was just happy to be out there.”
The Wizards needed overtime to defeat the Bucks the last time these teams met, but they still weren’t completely engaged at the beginning. Milwaukee forward Khris Middleton was free to roam and matched his previous career high with 20 points in the first half. Wall and Wittman both collected technical fouls in the second period and the Wizards needed a Jan Vesely slam just to enter the locker room down 13.
“After the stretch we just played, it’s a little disappointing to play the first half, the way we played it,” Wittman said. “We came out and played like it was a pickup game in the first half. That’s where we lost the game. . . . We should’ve single-handedly taken over at the start of the game, somebody on this team has got to be the leader that doesn’t allow this to happen.”
Nene has been playing with a sore right Achilles’ tendon the past two games, but was forced to leave in the third quarter after developing tendinitis in his right foot. The Wizards have struggled without Nene throughout his time in Washington. They are 0-3 in games that he doesn’t play and have lost another two games that he has been unable to finish because of injury or ejection.
Wall and Ariza rallied the Wizards back in the third quarter as the duo combined for 21 of the team’s 30 points. Ariza made four three-pointers, with his last shot from long distance in the period bringing the Wizards within 78-74. The Bucks tried to extend the lead entering the fourth quarter but Wall came from behind on Wolters to slap the ball hard off the backboard. Wall then pounded the basket stanchion and shouted to the crowd.
Wall had 10 points and four assists in the fourth quarter alone, giving the Wizards a five-point lead in the final minute. But the Wizards promptly surrendered a basket to Middleton (who had 29 points) and had a terrible offensive possession that ended with an ill-advised Wall three-pointer. Wall then was caught sleeping defensively, as he let Bucks point guard Brandon Knight (20 points) get open for a tying three-pointer with 15.9 seconds remaining.
With an opportunity the win the game in regulation, Wall found a wide-open Chris Singleton in the right corner. Singleton, who was playing in place of Webster, missed the three-pointer. He finished 1 of 10 from the floor.
After the game, Wall disputed Wittman’s claim that the team lacked focus in the first half. “That’s his opinion,” Wall said. “We didn’t play great in the first half, but it’s two halves to a basketball game. We came out in the second half and had a chance to win the game. [The Bucks] didn’t stop fighting. They made big plays and big shots, but they made bigger plays down the stretch.”