Wizards frustrated after finding new ways to lose close games

Late-game misfires by Gilbert Arenas have helped contribute to the Wizards' five-game losing streak.
Late-game misfires by Gilbert Arenas have helped contribute to the Wizards' five-game losing streak. (Gus Ruelas/associated Press)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 16, 2009

LOS ANGELES -- Caron Butler sat on a table in the locker room, looking woozy with a bag of ice pressed against his left eye after the Washington Wizards lost their fifth consecutive game, 97-95, to the Los Angeles Clippers Monday night. Butler removed the bag to reveal a red and irritated eye, the result of catching an errant Marcus Camby finger during the closing seconds at Staples Center.

His vision may have been a little blurry, but Butler still had a unique perspective on his team after the Wizards suffered yet another agonizing defeat that came down to their final possession. Having already lost games when Gilbert Arenas missed a layup against Toronto and missed two free throws in the closing seconds of losses against Boston and Indiana, the Wizards trailed by two points against the Clippers with 11 seconds remaining but never got off a final shot because Earl Boykins dribbled the ball off his leg.

Said Butler: "Games like this, what happened [on Monday], what happened against Indiana, Boston, Toronto; them games go the other way, we're talking about 'Man, how does it feel to have a winning streak?' Easily, it could've gone the other way and we'd be on a nice roll right now. Unfortunately, we're not."

No, the Wizards (7-15) are in the midst of another rough patch in an already disappointing season. They have lost at least five games in a row for the second time this season. When the Wizards won just 19 games last season, they had seven losing streaks of five or more games, with two of them coming in the first 22 games.

This is just the second time in Flip Saunders's coaching career that he has had two losing streaks of at least five games in the same season. The first time came during his first season in Minnesota (1995-96) when his Timberwolves had two five-game losing streaks.

"We hope, every game we learn a little something. You lose in a different way and then you learn from it," Saunders said. "The mood is the same thing it's been. You just keep on fighting through it and hopefully something is going to change."

If he can take away anything positive from this losing streak, Saunders said: "We're not getting blown out. It's not that we're not competitive."

For a team that has already lost eight games by double digits, that actually registers as progress. Saunders loves to talk about how "the basketball gods" have punished the Wizards late for earlier lapses. And the Wizards can point to several failings in losses to the Raptors, Celtics, Pacers and Clippers.

Before Arenas's missed layup against Toronto, the Wizards fell behind 20-5 in the first period. Before Arenas's missed free throws against Boston, they allowed 37 points and didn't get a rebound in the second quarter. Before Arenas's missed free throws against Indiana, the Wizards blew a six-point lead with 82 seconds remaining by allowing Earl Watson and Tyler Hansbrough to repeat a pick-and-roll sequence. And before Boykins dribbled the ball off his leg, the Wizards frittered away a 17-point second-half lead, highlighted by a terrible foul with 0.3 of a second left in the third period, when Boykins hit Baron Davis on the arm on a desperation three-point attempt.

"It's not one thing. Every game we find a different way to lose," Boykins said.

Antawn Jamison, who has scored 63 points in the past two losses, said: "It's tough to know that things could be different if we rebounded or executed a little differently down the stretch. The true character of this team has to come out. We just have to do it the hard way and find a way to put a couple of victories together."

Despite having the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards are just two games out of the eighth spot as they prepare to face the Sacramento Kings at Arco Arena on Wednesday. But the Wizards will have trouble bouncing back as Arenas continues to struggle with his confidence. After the loss to the Clippers, Arenas again expressed doubt in his ability to take over games, claiming that these close losses would not have occurred if he was in his "old form" before his three left-knee surgeries.

And, with the losses mounting, the Wizards grow concerned about the underachievement and lack of success splintering the locker room, as it did earlier this season. "You just feel angry inside," Nick Young said. "I just hope it don't divide us, really, again. We got to keep working hard, as a team, and stay together."

After ditching the bag of ice and putting in a few eye drops, Butler moved over to his locker stall, where he expressed optimism that the Wizards would eventually turn the corner. "It's frustrating, but this is our jobs," Butler said. "Not winning the games we want to win and not being where we want to be right now -- we're not comfortable with this. But at the same time, we've got to remain positive. It's a long season left and with the talent that we have on this team, we're going to be able to get right back into the thick of things. We definitely can make up some ground and still do some damage and some wonderful things."

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