Even as Bradley Beal missed layups and shots from long distance, Nene assaulted the back of the rim with his free throw attempts, and Trevor Booker’s absence allowed Detroit Pistons big men Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe to pummel them on the boards, the Washington Wizards still had opportunities to bury a season-long boogeyman Saturday night at Verizon Center.
But as the sloppy game continued to drag on, the Wizards kept throwing passes to Detroit players, losing their dribble and failing to execute on both ends until they wound up staring at a 104-98 defeat. Despite 34 points from John Wall, the Wizards (19-20) squandered their third chance to reach the modest accomplishment of getting over .500 — something that has eluded the franchise since it selected Wall first overall in 2010.
“We need to stop talking about this .500. We just got to go over there, give our best and that’s the consequence,” Nene said. “I don’t care about this .500. I just care about, if we play hard, we deserve to win.”
The Wizards figured the best strategy was simply to ignore their win-loss total, to not let their quest to get over the hump consume them. But the loss extended Wall’s streak to 223 games without having a winning record, the third-longest stretch for a former No. 1 overall pick behind Maryland’s Joe Smith (241) and Michael Olowokandi (227). Wall was forced to carry most of the load offensively, with the Wizards looking weary and disjointed against a team that was still smarting over an embarrassing, 24-point loss at Verizon Center last month.
Only four Wizards scored in double figures, with Martell Webster scoring 15, Nene adding 14 and Marcin Gortat contributing 10 points and 12 rebounds. The Wizards were also seeking to win four games in a row for the first time, but that wasn’t going to happen on a night when the defense finally broke down and Beal and Trevor Ariza combined to score just 14 points on 3-of-21 shooting.
“It was a rough night offensively, but still that shouldn’t have been the reason why we lost,” Ariza said after scoring seven points with eight rebounds and a season-high seven assists. “Games like this, we’ve got to find ways to win and we did not do that. I don’t think it’s hard to play at the level we’ve been playing at. We’ve shown we can do it.”
They ended 2013 with two wins over Detroit to get back to .500 but followed up by losing the next three games to open the new year. When they were 9-9, the Wizards also wasted a chance to grab a winning record when they lost to the lowly Milwaukee Bucks in overtime.
Washington had reestablished itself on the offensive end, shooting above 50 percent in two wins against Chicago and one over two-time defending champion Miami.
The Wizards shot just 48.7 percent and also snapped a string of three consecutive games in which they didn’t allow an opponent to reach triple digits.
“It’s been proven that it’s been pretty tough,” Coach Randy Wittman said of the Wizards’ efforts to get a winning record.
Booker, who had provided solid performances with Wittman using him as the only big man off the bench in the past three wins, sprained his left ankle early in the second quarter and didn't return. Wittman called on Jan Vesely, who hadn’t played during the previous three games. Vesely scored seven points in 15 minutes (and collected five fouls) and helped the Wizards take a 54-46 lead into intermission.
The Wizards led 60-50 when Wall made a layup early in the third quarter, but Josh Smith helped the Pistons storm back with a 20-6 run. Smith didn’t play the entire second half when the teams met in Washington last month, but he made his presence felt by hitting a flurry of jumpers, recovering from a 0-for-6 first-half performance to score 12 of his team-high 22 points in the third period.
Former Georgetown star Greg Monroe (12 points, 10 rebounds) made two free throws to give the Pistons a 70-66 lead. Webster made a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within a point. Wall later tied the game with a runner off the glass but missed a chance to complete a three-point play. Missed free throws were a recurring theme for the Wizards, who shot just 16 of 29 from the line. Nene and Vesely combined to go 5 of 14.
“The difference in this game was the free throw line. Starting with myself,” Nene said. “It’s amazing, when you miss one free throw at the wrong time and it can affect your game. The thing is, look up, there is another game to try to get better.”
Beal had easily his worst game of the season, making 2 of 14 shots from the field to finish with a season-low seven points. He opened the game by hitting a three-pointer from the right corner, but he struggled for the rest of the night. In the fourth quarter, Beal drove baseline and missed a layup, then picked up a foul out of frustration while trying to get a steal.
“It was definitely a rough night, not just for myself but other guys,” Beal said. “I missed a lot of freaking layups. I’m probably more mad at those than I am jump shots. We still put ourselves in position to win, but I’ve got to do better on the offensive end.”
The Wizards trailed just 91-90 after Wall made a jumper with 5 minutes 32 seconds remaining, but he later committed a turnover and Pistons reserve Rodney Stuckey (20 points) made two free throws and a jumper to seal it.
“Somebody needs to not tell us our record, and then we’ll just go out and play,” Beal said. “Every time they tell us .500, we start pressing ourselves and end up not showing up. We’ll get over the hump. We’ve still got a lot of games left.”