Saunders calls out Wizards after losing, 110-98, to Oklahoma City

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 30, 2009

After Coach Flip Saunders watched Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant split the Washington Wizards' defense as if he were driving through cones for an impressive layup on Tuesday, he considered the possibility of putting on a pair of gym shorts. As the night played out, and Russell Westbrook soared for highlight dunks, and Jeff Green and Thabo Sefolosha knocked down uncontested three-pointers, Saunders thought about rounding up people off the street to go against his porous defense.

Saunders tried everything he could to get the Wizards to slow down Oklahoma City -- switching from a zone defense to man-to-man -- and after his team lost its third consecutive game, 110-98, he came to a conclusion: His players cannot stop anyone.

"This team needs a mind-set change," Saunders said. "This team, for the last five years has been known as one of the worst defensive teams in the league. We could take five guys in this room out here and we could have a chance. I think I can go out there on the floor and take anybody on the team, one-on-one at [54] years old, and drive right around them. They can't guard anybody."

Saunders unleashed his most scathing evaluation of his team after the Wizards dropped to 10-20, far below the expectations of a team that still boasts three former all-stars in Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. That trio combined to score 60 points against the Thunder, but Saunders has seen enough of his offensive-minded team to realize that names and reputations don't equate to results, especially on the end of the floor that counts. And, this team is not getting the job done, even with the playoffs within range in the weak Eastern Conference.

"I didn't come here to make the playoffs," Saunders said. "I came here to win a championship. We need a total mind-set change about how we're going to do that. Until we have that -- and that's from everybody, staff and players and everybody is committed to that -- we're going to have games like this where we're going to hang around, hang around and then when it comes times to make stops and if you don't have an ability to do it, you're going to lose games."

Arenas (24 points, 8 assists) gave the Wizards a 90-89 lead with a three-pointer with 7 minutes 43 seconds remaining, but the Thunder closed out the game on a 21-8 run. The Thunder shot an inexplicable 72 percent (13 for 18) in the fourth quarter.

"Until our guys decide that it hurts when teams score on you, we've got no chance," he said. "We're kidding ourselves."

Saunders even threatened to make wholesale changes to his starting lineup. "It's all up in the air now," he said. "If guys don't like it, I'm fine, because that's the way it's going to be. I'm not going to sit there and stand there and look at that anymore."

Making his lone trip to his hometown, Durant put on a show as he extended his string of consecutive games with at least 30 points to five. A night after scoring a season-high 40 points, Durant had 35, with 31 through the first three quarters. Durant took advantage of the Wizards' zone defense and knocked down three three-pointers. He also mixed in the occasional drive to the basket, adding a driving dunk during the decisive fourth-quarter run.

"It's one of those things where when we give up a dunk in the fourth quarter to a high-level player like Kevin Durant, everybody on the team is mad because he's supposed to get fouled," Brendan Haywood said after scoring 16 points with eight rebounds. "That's when we'll grow as a team, when we take pride in getting stops."

But that pride has been absent for some time, especially the past three games, as the Wizards allowed their past three opponents to score more than 100 points.

"I'm frustrated, but I'm as frustrated as anybody," Saunders said. "I feel bad for the people that came to the game and had to watch us play like this. We got a responsibility as professional athletes, as entertainers, to go out on the floor and perform at a high level."

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