As the Washington Wizards were introduced at Verizon Center on Saturday, John Wall already had the look of a defeated man. He slouched in his chair, slapped five with his fellow starters, then trudged through a tunnel of teammates as his name was announced. The game hadn’t started, but his detachment was already palpable.
Wall has had an underwhelming sophomore campaign, but his struggles played out in even more disconcerting fashion during the first half of the Wizards’ 103-90 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Wall had more turnovers (seven) than points (six) in the first half and was benched for the final three minutes of the second quarter after a series of careless passes led to easy points for the visitors. He redeemed himself in the second half and nearly finished with a quadruple-double — 19 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and eight turnovers — but accepted blame for the loss afterward.
“I feel like I lost the game. I put the game on my shoulders, too many turnovers,” said Wall, who came within one turnover of his career high, set in his fourth career game last season.
JaVale McGee had his best game of the season. He made his first eight field goals and scored a season-high 23 points to go with a career-high-tying 18 rebounds and a season-high-tying five blocked shots. Nick Young scored a season-high 27 points — his third game with at least 20 points this season — but the Wizards (1-11) were rudderless as Wall played the first half as if he were elsewhere.
The team entered the locker room trailing by 12 points at the break. Coach Flip Saunders thought all of his players had been zapped, playing their fourth game in five nights. “I told them it looked like ‘Space Jam,’ when everyone lost all their talents and couldn’t do anything there for a while,” Saunders said.
No team in franchise history has started so poorly. The 2008-09 Wizards — who matched the franchise record for fewest wins in an 82-game season with 19 – started the season 1-10 but won their next game after replacing Eddie Jordan with Ed Tapscott.
A night after suffering their most lopsided loss of the season to the same 76ers team, the Wizards had a more respectable performance. The Wizards actually shot better (43.2 percent to 43 percent) and rebounded better (53-37) than Philadelphia, but they couldn’t overcome 18 turnovers, which led to 27 points for the 76ers.
Andray Blatche missed his third consecutive game with a sprained left shoulder and said the specialist he met with in New York on Friday told him he would need an extensive rehabilitation before returning to the court.
The Wizards failed to get much help from their other forwards. Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton and Rashard Lewis combined to score just eight points on 4-for-22 shooting (18 percent).
“A terrible night, bad night, especially for me,” Lewis said after missing 9 of 10 shots and scoring just two points. “Didn’t have no rhythm going. I just could not buy a basket for nothing.”
Lewis had a left-handed tip-in to give the Wizards a 28-27 lead early in the second quarter, but the 76ers outscored them 25-13 the rest of the half, turning six turnovers into 10 points. Wall had three turnovers in the period, including two in a 40-second span that earned him a comfortable seat on the bench.
With the Wizards trailing 42-33, Wall threw a pass directly to 76ers forward Andre Iguodala (23 points, five steals), who raced down the court for an uncontested dunk. Saunders called a timeout and Wall again made a lazy pass that Iguodala intercepted. Saunders yanked Wall and replaced him with Shelvin Mack for the final 3 minutes 22 seconds of the half. The Wizards didn’t gain or lose any ground, but they also didn’t commit any turnovers while Wall sat.
“When he makes a mistake, he’s a perfectionist, he gets down on himself, then he starts questioning what he was doing,” Saunders said of Wall.
Wall had trouble containing his flustered, exasperated glares last season, but those have been replaced with looks of indifference. He certainly hasn’t been the main reason that the Wizards are off to the worst start in franchise history, but his teammates are looking to him for some energy or enthusiasm, which Wall finally provided during a spirited second half. He was more assertive and under control, failing to commit another turnover until the final minute, when he was called for an offensive foul.
“That was the best half of basketball he’s played with us so far, distributing the ball, scoring, being aggressive,” Saunders said. “I told him afterward, we need that from him for 48 [minutes], because as a point guard, you’re always the leader.”
When asked what led to his inspired performance in the second half, Wall said, “I just relaxed and played basketball.”