Wizards fall on road to Pacers, tie team record with 13th straight loss

Washington Wizards forward Andray Blatche returned to the starting lineup a night after arguing with Coach Flip Saunders.
Washington Wizards forward Andray Blatche returned to the starting lineup a night after arguing with Coach Flip Saunders. (Tom Strattman/associated Press)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 25, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS -- When Washington Wizards Coach Flip Saunders woke up in his hotel on Wednesday morning, he had a throbbing migraine headache that forced him to miss a team meeting. Saunders had several reasons to feel ill, with his team arriving in Indiana one loss from matching the franchise record for consecutive losses and dealing with insubordination the night before from the best player remaining on his roster, Andray Blatche.

On Tuesday night, Saunders, Blatche and Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld met immediately after Saunders publicly chastised Blatche for refusing to re-enter a loss against Charlotte. The conversation was enough for Saunders to elect not to suspend the fifth-year forward, who resumed his role as the team's starting forward on Wednesday.

"As I told him, when he came out of the game, it was a situation that if he wanted to go back in the game he had to talk to me, accept coaching," Saunders said before the Wizards lost their 13th game in a row, 99-82, to the Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse. "We talked about the situation, he didn't want to talk during the game about it, so he didn't play. We talked. It's over with. You move forward."

Blatche said he was still upset and that his relationship with Saunders was damaged following Saunders's postgame comments that he quit on his teammates by refusing to acknowledge assistant coaches Sam Cassell and Gene Banks when they went to speak with him in the first quarter against Charlotte.

"I'm not a quitter. I never quit a day of my life," Blatche said. "I've had one of the hardest transitions to make it in the NBA. If I was a quitter, I wouldn't be here right now. So for anybody to say I quit, it's not true."

Saunders suspended Blatche for being belligerent during and after a game against New Orleans in January -- something Saunders has rarely, if ever, done in his 14 seasons as an NBA coach. But at the time, Saunders and Blatche said there was never a problem between the two of them.

"Right now, it's not too good for me," Blatche said of the relationship. "I don't appreciate what was said about me to the press and in the papers, because I never said those kind of words. Over time things will heal. I know exactly what happened, I know exactly what was said. The only thing I'm going to do right now is to try to be positive. And see it as a misunderstanding."

Blatche scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting in the first quarter, but he missed seven of his final 11 shots and finished with a team-high 21 points. He also played a team-high 39 minutes.

Blatche made a turnaround jumper that gave the Wizards a 42-41 lead with 2 minutes 33 seconds left in the second period. But the Pacers (26-46) responded with a 22-2 run over the nine minutes and took a 63-47 lead on tip in shot by Josh McRoberts, who had 14 rebounds and 12 points starting in place of injured former Georgetown center Roy Hibbert (bruised jaw). Danny Granger (31 points) hit a three-pointer shortly thereafter to push the Pacers' lead to 20 points, and they coasted from there.

JaVale McGee was held scoreless with just three rebounds and Saunders said his backup James Singleton was "the only bright spot" for the Wizards. Singleton came off the bench to grab a career-high 21 rebounds and score a season-high 19 points.

"We're on a losing streak right now," Singleton said. "I hate losing. I love streaks, but this ain't the kind I want to be a part of. I'm going to do anything in my power to get us out of this slump."

Saunders said he wasn't even aware that the Wizards had matched the franchise futility record. "Our guys, we're not looking at that. We're trying to be competitive and look ahead," Saunders said. "The reason we're getting beat right now is teams are better than us. We're not very good right now."

The Wizards will have a day off on Thursday and head to Charlotte, where they will face the same Bobcats team that Saunders said Blatche didn't want to finish the game against on Tuesday.

"Everybody has to understand, when you have a situation where you agree or disagree, you have to respect the position of a coach," Saunders said. "As I said, whether you think the coach is right or wrong, the coach is right in those types of situations.

"I think Dray has a chance to be a special-type player," Saunders continued. "But with special players, your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness, if you can't control it. You have to be coachable and from that standpoint, you have to have that discipline. I think he understands that. He's played a lot and done a lot of things here lately. I hope he'll get back on track."

Blatche said he never worried about not playing in Indiana.

"I have a job, so I was prepared for either or. I came out and that's what I did," Blatche said after the game. "I didn't do nothing wrong, so I didn't have anything to worry about. It was a situation that occurred. It should die down within time. Most important thing right now is to try to get a win."

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