Washington Wizards fall to Steve Nash and Phoenix Suns, 102-90
The Washington Wizards' fourth consecutive loss wasn't punctuated by some postgame tirade, motivational speech or a shattered fruit plate.
Instead, the scattered crowd at Verizon Center serenaded the Wizards with boos for the first time this season after watching them lose to the Phoenix Suns, 102-90, in a painful exhibition in which Steve Nash dished out more assists than the home team.
Coach Flip Saunders tried his fourth lineup in seven games, inserting Randy Foye into the starting shooting guard spot vacated by the injured Mike Miller. But the final result played out with similar results to the previous three games, with the Wizards (2-5) having more turnovers (17) than assists (15) and looking like a group of five individuals on offense, playing for themselves.
On the other side, Nash brilliantly, efficiently and unselfishly ran the show for the Suns, driving and finding his teammates for open shots. Nash, the two-time league most valuable player, finished with 17 assists.
"I'm disappointed," Foye said after scoring 16 points with just one assist. "One guy -- even though he's leading the league in assists -- is not supposed to have more assists than the whole team."
As a team, the Suns had 30 assists. The Wizards had a season-high 28 assists in their last victory, against the New Jersey Nets on Oct. 31. But the offense has been sputtering ever since, with the team relying on either Gilbert Arenas or Caron Butler, or both, to save them. Neither player has been able to come to the rescue yet.
On Sunday, Butler and Arenas combined to shoot 14 of 42 (33 percent) and scored 39 points, but the ball rarely moved more than twice on offense, with players taking the first shot or going one-on-one.
"We're not good, because we're not there, as far as moving the ball," Saunders said. "The ball comes, we don't make that extra pass. We're taking too many contested shots. If we were a hockey team, we'd have no hockey assists, you know, the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the score."
Arenas (20 points) started out shooting the ball well and scored 12 points in the first period. After making a long jumper to give the Wizards a 14-13 lead, Arenas motioned his hands as if he were heating up the Hibachi grill. Was he bringing it back? "No. I was just trying to find a rhythm to the game. I ran out of gas in the third quarter," said Arenas, who shot just 2 for 12 in the second half, at one point replacing his drenched jersey.
Butler said he simply missed shots he usually makes. At one point, Butler missed a fast-break layup and Andray Blatche grabbed the rebound and missed the putback. The next time he got the ball near the basket, Butler dunked, then stared at the rim.
"I had to look because I know I make my dunks and my layups," said Butler, who needed 20 shots to get 19 points. "I thought somebody moved [the rim]. I was like, 'Man, something ain't right out here.' "
A lot isn't going right for the Wizards right now. The unfamiliarity of playing with an ever-changing lineup that has yet to include the injured Antawn Jamison has made it difficult to develop chemistry and trust. Jamison is expected to return in the next week or so, possibly Saturday against Detroit. His absence has been glaring.
"They're missing their best player," Suns Coach Alvin Gentry said. "With Jamison, they're a different team."
Without him, the Wizards are trying to rediscover their ability to score. After their first three games, the Wizards had two wins and averaged 104.6 points. Since then, the Wizards have yet to score more than 90 points in a game.
"That's where we're struggling," Arenas said. "Before it was defense, everyone was complaining about because we could score with anybody. Now we can't seem to get 100. We still have offensive players on this team. We're doing what we need to do defensively. We were one of the worst teams last year, we're in the top 10 now. Now we just have to crack the top 10 in scoring."
With the team waiting for Miller and Jamison, Andray Blatche (20 points) was asked if it felt like last season, when the team was without Arenas and Brendan Haywood. "This is nothing like last year. We're not going to allow it to be like that," Blatche said. "We're going to definitely turn that switch on."
Despite their poor offensive execution, the Wizards still had a chance to make it competitive. But with the team trailing 89-83 with 5 minutes 28 seconds remaining, Haywood missed two free throws and the Suns responded with a three-pointer by Channing Frye (18 points) and a dunk by Amare Stoudemire (17 points). Jason Richardson led all scorers with 22.
"To hold them to 102, the way they've been playing is not that bad," Saunders said. "It's been a never-ending thing the past few games, our offense has been stagnant. And we're struggling offensively, which is putting a lot of undue pressure on us defensively. It's one of those things, where you've got to keep grinding. When you're not playing well, you don't all of sudden snap your finger and start playing well."