DALLAS — When the man filling in for the face of the franchise went down with a sprained right ankle, the Washington Wizards could’ve easily given up and wondered what they had done to offend the basketball gods.
Short on players, short on talent, the Wizards keep taking hits. They became the NBA’s lone winless team on Wednesday with a 107-101 loss to the new-look Dallas Mavericks — a fate that is somewhat understandable, considering Washington’s two best players (John Wall and Nene) are out indefinitely and continue to watch each game on the bench in sport coats.
But in a seemingly unfair twist, A.J. Price rolled his ankle in the third quarter, forcing the Wizards to convert a shooting guard into the backup to the backup point guard while trailing by 22 points. Jordan Crawford and some end-of-bench reserves staged a valiant run to get within three points with five minutes left, only to be thwarted once again in the closing seconds at American Airlines Center.
“We shouldn’t be in that position all the time,” Crawford said after scoring a team-high 21 points while handing out seven assists. “Maybe they should be one shot away and we should be up, playing the right way. We’ve got to do some things to switch that around.”
With the Detroit Pistons defeating the Philadelphia 76ers earlier in the evening, the Wizards are alone at the bottom of the NBA to start a season for the second year in a row. Their 0-7 start is the second-worst in franchise history, one loss from matching the team record they set last season.
“We’ve got to keep fighting and not get discouraged,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “But it’s hard sometimes not to get discouraged.”
Before Crawford, Kevin Seraphin, Cartier Martin, Jannero Pargo and Jan Vesely led an inspired 34-point fourth quarter, the only breaks the Wizards could get were bad ones. If Bradley Beal wasn’t getting knocked over on drives to the hoop and still not picking up a foul, Trevor Booker was running down a loose ball and colliding with Elton Brand as he made a jumper while falling on his backside. If Vesely missed a layup, Chris Kaman was dunking on the other end. If the Wizards were clanking three-pointers, the Mavericks were converting them into easing fast-break points.
A night after getting dismantled in Charlotte, the Wizards were nearly knocked out before halftime against a Mavericks team that was playing without Dirk Nowitzki (right knee surgery) and Shawn Marion (strained left knee ligament) and bears no resemblance to the squad that won an NBA championship just 17 months ago.
Beal, the third overall draft pick, had another forgettable night, scoring just eight points on 3-for-14 shooting and couldn’t hide his frustration at the end of the first half when he missed an attempted dunk over Kaman and thought he was fouled. Asked his impressions of the play, Beal said, “I can’t say anything about that or I’ll get fined.”
Wittman complained to the officials for most of the night, begging for fouls as his team attacked the basket but got outshot from the foul line, 33-11.
“For whatever reason, this team doesn’t get any respect,” Wittman said. “These young guys just have to make a name for themselves. It’s just baffling some of the things that are said to me by the refs for why they don’t call it. Maybe we just have to send the game film every day to the league.”
Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo (25 points) made two free throws to give his team an 88-70 lead with 11 minutes 15 seconds remaining before Seraphin (16 points) made a 16-foot jumper to ignite a 15-0 run over the next four minutes.
Martin, who hasn’t made it off the bench in three games this season, nearly rescued the Wizards by scoring 14 points in less than 10 minutes. He hit back-to-back three-pointers to bring the Wizards within 88-85 and force Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle to call timeout. Martin howled as he headed to the bench and his teammates gleefully ran toward him to jump and chest-bump.
“We have a tough group of guys on this team,” Martin said. “Our record doesn’t show how great of a group we are. Everybody on this team can play. We’re struggling right now, but we’re going to continue to fight. We’re not going to give up.”
The Mavericks kept trying to pull away, but the Wizards get charging back until they ran out of time. Martin buried a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within 104-101 with 21.3 seconds remaining but Kaman (23 points) took advantage of a defensive breakdown that left him wide open and he scored a layup as Vesely fouled him. Kaman made the free throw and Chris Singleton missed a three-pointer from the left corner. Dallas secured the rebound and snapped a three-game losing streak.
Price, who had been a backup for his first three seasons in Indiana but was thrust into a starting role with Wall out because of a stress injury in his left knee, was moving around fine after the game without a limp. He said he would be ready when the Wizards take on Utah on Saturday at Verizon Center.
“If it ain’t broke, I’m playing,” Price said, words that could be a motto for his beaten down team.