By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 22, 2008
If the Washington Wizards haven't hit bottom yet, it's scary to imagine what that might look like.
In dropping their sixth straight game and falling to 4-21 with a 97-86 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at Verizon Center last night, the Wizards certainly appeared to reach a new low.
Yes, Dallas stars like Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 23 points, and Jason Terry, who came off the bench to score 25, did their part. But how to explain a string of easy alley-oop dunks by the likes of Devean George and James Singleton?
"Who was the guy throwing the alley-oop?" asked Wizards Coach Ed Tapscott. "Jason Kidd. It's Jason Kidd who makes the difference and it's Jason Kidd who stretches out your defense. He made the passes necessary to get those dunks. The alley-oop dunk isn't made by the dunker, it's made by the passer."
That is true, Kidd did rack up seven of his 11 assists during the fourth quarter as the Mavericks blew open a once-close game, but none of that would have been possible without another string of Wizards breakdowns, and most of them came at the defensive end.
Whether it was Kidd finding open teammates with lobs or Terry freeing himself for an open shot by running off of screens or Nowitzki taking advantage of a bad switch, the Mavericks took advantage of Washington's mistakes.
"It was the same story, they went small and we had a lot of miscues on defense," said Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who finished with 22 points and eight rebounds but was also on the court when the Mavericks put away the game. "They did a lot of cutting and screening and we really didn't communicate at all. That's when Jason Kidd really got involved and they started getting backdoor cuts for layups and dunks."
Despite shooting 39.5 percent, the Wizards led 68-67 with under a minute remaining in the third quarter when Terry, who doesn't start but is nonetheless having an all-star-quality season, drained consecutive three-pointers.
Nowitizki then took over in the fourth with a personal 6-0 run.
First, he posted up against Jamison and drained a fadeaway jumper. Then, after another empty Wizards possession, he spotted up at the top of the circle, received a pass from José Barea and made a jumper over Dominic McGuire.
After a timeout, it was Nick Young's turn to deal with Nowitzki, who bodied up on Young after a defensive switch and easily made a 15-footer. Next in line came Blatche, who tried to body up on Nowitzki but was promptly called for two fouls.
Blatche forced Nowitzki to miss a jumper, but after a pair of Young free throws, Barea caught the Wizards in a bad switch and made a three-pointer over Blatche to give Dallas a 79-70 lead.
From that point, Kidd took over, and he did it with Nowitzki sitting out the final six minutes of the game.
"You try to wear them down," Kidd said of the Wizards. "Those guys play a lot of minutes. They're a talented group of guys and the ball just hasn't bounced their way."
That would be putting it mildly.
The 4-21 record matches the 1966-67 Baltimore Bullets for the worst start in franchise history. Those Bullets finally picked up their fifth win in the 26th game of the season, something the Wizards will try to do tomorrow night at Charlotte. Also looming is a Christmas night game in Cleveland against LeBron James and one of the best teams in the league.
In the closing moments last night, as Tapscott emptied his bench during a timeout, a heated Caron Butler expressed his frustration with some pointed comments in the team's huddle.
"Just wanting to win," said Butler, who finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. "That's all it was, just wanting to win."
Tapscott, who continues to try and find positives where he can as the season steadily slips away, chalked Butler's mini-rant up to competitiveness more than anything.
"That was frustration at not getting it done," Tapscott said. "Trust me, I would prefer to see anger over losing than to see resignation. Although you want to stay under control, I can understand anger when things don't go well. That shows me there's deep caring and concern and as long as you've got that, you've got a chance to turn it around."