By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 2, 2010; D03
After snapping a franchise-record losing streak that spanned the number of games in an NFL regular season, the Washington Wizards didn't exactly douse each other with champagne or have a Gatorade toast in the visitors' locker room at New Orleans Arena.
They were certainly thrilled to have avoided a winless March, but more relieved to survive a fourth-quarter meltdown in which the Hornets needed only two minutes to chop a 12-point deficit to two -- and had a chance to tie the game after the Wizards committed three turnovers in the final minute. At least they could have a little humor about stumbling to the finish line in a 96-91 win.
Mike Miller shouted across the locker room to newly signed point guard Cedric Jackson: "Young fella, what'd I tell you? You don't lose 16 in a row on accident."
But if you ask Coach Flip Saunders, there was nothing fluky about the Wizards' first victory since defeating New Jersey on Feb. 28. The night before in Houston, the Wizards squandered a five-point lead with five minutes left before losing, 98-94, to the Rockets. They had lost four games in March by six points or fewer, with another loss coming in overtime.
"The thing I'm going to take out of it is we played better than our record," Saunders said after the Wizards went 1-16 in March. "People are going to look and say, 'Oh, geez.' But I think if you've talked to any team that's played us this month -- outside of Milwaukee -- we were competitive with all of those teams. The biggest thing is, our guys have grown. Our guys keep on battling."
Twelve of the Wizards' opponents during the losing streak have winning records. "We'd lost 16, but probably no one has played as good a teams as we've played, has been on the road as much as we've been and has opportunities to win as many games as we did," Saunders said.
Miller certainly wasn't going to complain about failing to join the 1995-96 Vancouver Grizzlies as the only team to lose 17 games in one month. "It's never fun losing. Just to feel a win is good. As a young team, we've still got some growing pains to go through. The end of the game, we got to figure out how to close things out. But a win is a win. We've got to build on it. We've got nine games left and just got to try to get a couple more. We'll see how we close out the season."
The Wizards (22-52) also no longer have to worry about the ignominy of matching that same Grizzlies team for the most consecutive losses without scoring at least 100 points.
And as they prepare to host the Chicago Bulls on Friday, the Wizards have gone 18 straight games without reaching triple digits, the longest streak in the NBA this season. The Oklahoma City Thunder failed to reach 100 points in 19 consecutive games last season, and the Miami Heat had a 20-game drought in 2007-08. Since the shot clock era began in 1954-55, the 2000-01 Heat holds the record for most consecutive games below 100 points with 35, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The Wizards are averaging just 92.7 points since the all-star break. They scored 100 or more points in five of their first six games after the break, but only one of those performances have come since Josh Howard tore his anterior cruciate ligament on Feb. 22 -- the night the Wizards beat the Bulls, 101-95. They are averaging 88.6 points the past 18 games and have failed to reach 90 points 12 times.
Saunders started running a new offensive system last week in Indiana. Although the Wizards scored just 82 points in a 17-point loss to the Pacers, they have scored at least 90 points in three of the past four games, averaging 93.3 points over that span.
"We went with that new offense about a week ago and actually, we've played pretty well," Saunders said. "We've moved the ball well. We're sharing the ball and giving ourselves opportunities."