CHARLOTTE — The first leg of an awkward stretch of the schedule caused by a visiting circus and the NCAA tournament carried importance for the Washington Wizards: They wanted to even their season series against the Charlotte Bobcats and collect a much-needed road win against the team with the NBA’s worst record.
With roughly three minutes remaining in Monday night’s game, the Wizards appeared well on their way toward accomplishing both when John Wall crossed half-court and threw a lob to Trevor Booker for an alley-oop dunk that gave them a late five-point lead. But then the Wizards collapsed under an avalanche of turnovers and defensive breakdowns and lost, 119-114, at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“Mental lapses. Blown assignments. We all did it. You have four or five guys, six, seven guys that all have mental lapses, it all adds up to one big mess,” forward Martell Webster said after the Wizards lost for the 26th time in 31 road games this season. “We were in control of that game and then all of sudden, we found ourselves becoming very complacent. Lazy on defense. And you just can’t do that.”
Wall, a native of Raleigh, N.C., was back in his home state on the day he received Eastern Conference player of the week honors for the first time in his career, determined to maintain his level of play. With his mother, Frances Pulley, seated a few rows behind the Wizards’ bench, Wall scored a team-high 25 points but was forced to watch the ugly finish on the bench after fouling out with 28.1 seconds left. As he dressed after the game, Wall repeatedly shook his head and claimed responsibility for the loss after missing a layup, getting called for an offensive foul and failing to catch two inbounds passes from Trevor Ariza after throwing his lob to Booker.
“I feel I lost this game for us,” Wall said. “We should’ve got to the finish line. We gave this game away. We knew whoever played defense first and got stops at the end of the game was going to win. We didn’t get the stops we needed and we turned the ball over.”
Wizards Coach Randy Wittman didn’t place the blame on any individual but was upset by watching his team surrender a season high in points and squander an impressive performance in which it shot 53.1 percent. The loss marked the first time in 11 games this season that the Wizards shot better than 50 percent from the field and lost. But it didn’t help when the Bobcats shot 53.2 percent.
“This was a glorified pickup game for us,” Wittman said. “I’m really disappointed in our mind-set. That’s one of the reasons why we’re five wins on the road and it’s got to change or you’re going to continue to play this way on the road. You could tell from the first quarter. We played about five minutes of how we play. Then, we were like, ‘Okay, we’re going to win this now. We’re up five and we’re going to coast in.’ You can’t do that. It comes back to bite you in the end.”
Wall scored eight straight points — a layup, a pull-up jumper and four free throws — for the Wizards before his alley-oop to Booker put the Wizards ahead 111-106 and forced Bobcats Coach Mike Dunlap to call a timeout. The Bobcats answered with a Kemba Walker layup, and then Ariza threw a pass out of bounds to the right after Wall cut left.
Reserve Ben Gordon (19 points) hit a three-pointer and a Walker made bank shot that put Charlotte (15-52) back ahead, 113-111, with 1 minute 37 seconds remaining. Wall then was called for an offensive foul when he drove into Walker, leading to another layup for Walker. After Ariza threw his second inbounds pass away, Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson (27 points) put the game away with a three-pointer.
“Just miscommunication,” Ariza said, explaining the bad passes intended for Wall. “It’s frustrating, but we’ve got another one in a couple of days so we’ll try to forget about this one and move on.”
Nene had 21 points, Emeka Okafor and Garrett Temple both had 17 and Webster added 12 but the Wizards (23-43) lost the season series to Charlotte, three games to one — only nine days after recording their third-most lopsided win of the season over the Bobcats at Verizon Center. The Wizards have now gone 1-10 this season against Cleveland, Detroit and Charlotte, who have a combined record of 60-143.
Rookie Bradley Beal had a rough outing in his second game back from a sprained left ankle, scoring just five points on 2-of-7 shooting in 18 minutes and tweaking his injury in a second-half collision with Gordon.
“It’s a little sore,” Beal said after the game of his ankle. “It’s something I have to deal with. It’s probably not going to completely heal until I just sit down, but that’s not something I’m going to do.”
The Wizards arrived in Charlotte on a three-game winning streak but they have now lost four in a row away from Verizon Center, dating from a win on Feb. 25 in Toronto. After Charlotte, the Wizards will travel to Phoenix, Los Angeles and Golden State, return home for one game against Memphis, then head back on the road for games against Oklahoma City and Orlando.
“This is probably our easiest chance to get a win on the road trip,” Booker said. “But I think we can get it together. If we had played a little bit of defense, we would’ve won.”