By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
The coach was Gar Heard, the leading scorer was a past-his-prime Mitch Richmond and the year was 1999.
That's the last time the Washington Wizards opened a season 1-7.
That forgettable team went on to a 29-53 finish, and while plenty of time remains for the current Wizards to change things around, last night's 94-87 loss to the Miami Heat at Verizon Center was not encouraging.
Unlike Friday night's 20-point loss in Miami, the Wizards overcame a slow start and a third-quarter blitz by the Heat to make a game of it but, ultimately, poor shooting and a flurry of late-game mistakes did them in.
"Down the stretch, that's what it came down to," said second-year guard Nick Young, who had a pair of costly turnovers in the game's final three minutes. "I made some turnovers, too. Just trying to control the game down the stretch. That's what we have to do."
Problem is, talking about what needs to be done and actually doing it have been two totally different things for a team that is without its best player (Gilbert Arenas), its starting center (Brendan Haywood) and most recently, its backup point guard (Antonio Daniels).
Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison combined for 46 points and 24 rebounds, but starters Etan Thomas, DeShawn Stevenson and Juan Dixon combined to score 13 points on 5-of-20 shooting. The bench didn't do much, either.
Still, the Wizards were in the game late before a series of mistakes and a little bad luck did them in. Miami led 92-87 with 33 seconds remaining, and the Wizards had the ball when Young's cross-court pass to Caron Butler was picked off by Dwyane Wade.
Wade iced the game by making a pair of free throws. Before that, rookie center JaVale McGee failed to get a call when it appeared that he was hammered by Wade, Butler turned it over when his pass went off of Jamison's foot and Young turned it over when he got stuck in he air with no place to go with the ball after the Wizards forced a Miami miss.
"It was almost deja vu for us," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "They made shots and plays and we missed shots and didn't make plays."
Wade finished with 19 points, on 6-of-16 shooting, with 10 assists and 6 rebounds while leading a balanced attack that placed six players in double figures.
Good ball movement and Washington's sloppiness helped the Heat overcome poor free throw shooting (13 of 21) and a bunch of missed layups.
Unlike Friday's 97-77 loss, the Wizards competed throughout and even shook off a 14-2 third-quarter run by the Heat. However, each time the game tightened, the Wizards either failed to make a push or made a mistake that Miami took advantage of.
Through eight games, the team's faults are glaring. Dixon, a career backup who was not even on Detroit's playoff roster last spring, is starting, as is Thomas, who missed all of last season following open-heart surgery.
Young can score (12 points on 4-of-12 shooting) but is adjusting to an increased role, as is McGee, who finished with seven points and four rebounds and could be moved into the starting lineup soon.
Either way, Jordan's options appear to be limited as his team sinks further into an early-season hole.
"This team is built for Gilbert Arenas to lead us, this team is built for our all-star forwards to do certain offensive things for us and for Brendan Haywood to have a career year manning the middle for us," Jordan said. "We don't have those things. You're asking people to do things that they are not capable of doing. They are not capable of carrying the load for us like a Dwyane Wade, like a Gilbert Arenas. You've got young guys who aren't going to make veteran plays night in, night out. They're going to be good here and there, so to be in the game is a credit to everyone in our organization right now. It's eight games into the season and you've got to be positive but you've also got to be realistic about things. That's where we are."