Wizards fall late in fourth, look 'to get over that hump'

Rookie John Wall (2) notches a double-double but can't keep the Wizards from losing a third straight within their division.
Rookie John Wall (2) notches a double-double but can't keep the Wizards from losing a third straight within their division. (Jonathan Newton)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Staff Writer
Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.

The problems for the Washington Wizards began a few hours before the game, when forward Al Thornton started feeling a sharp pain in his midsection that disrupted his routine during warmups. They continued when they stepped on the court against the Charlotte Bobcats and little seemed to go right.

Their big men were unable to get rebounds. Gilbert Arenas couldn't hit shots. Even what most considered impossible - the speedy John Wall getting caught from behind on a fast break - happened when Gerald Wallace blocked the No. 1 overall pick's layup attempt late in the fourth quarter.

So, when the Wizards' final, futile rally was thwarted by a controversial foul call on Yi Jianlian with less than a minute remaining, it just seemed that they were destined to lose, 93-85, on Friday night at Verizon Center.

"Something's got to go for us," Andray Blatche said after recording team highs with 22 points and nine rebounds. "We got to get over that hump, man."

The Wizards (2-5) were finally able to close out a game on Wednesday against Houston, but the tenacity and hustle that led to that win were nonexistent in the final seven minutes Friday, when the Bobcats took control of the game with an impressive 12-1 run engineered by Wallace (25 points, 14 rebounds), the versatile Boris Diaw (19 points, five rebounds), a composed D.J. Augustin (17 points, 10 assists) and a determined Stephen Jackson (13 points).

The run turned a three-point deficit into an eight-point lead in just more than three minutes and left the Wizards flustered over how they lost a close game at home for the second time in three tries.

"We got to learn how to take care of home court. These teams that we're losing against, these are teams that we are going to be fighting against for a playoff spot," said Wall, who followed up his spectacular performance against Houston - when he became the third-youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double - with 13 points and 11 assists.

Despite forcing the Bobcats into 24 turnovers, which led to 24 points, the Wizards were demolished in rebounding, 48-30.

"The amazing thing is how we can even be in the game," Coach Flip Saunders said. "We continue to get bullied around inside. We've got to continue to get tougher. Yi and JaVale [McGee] combined for five rebounds. Those guys playing those spots have to do more. It puts too much pressure on the rest of the team."

Kirk Hinrich had 14 points and eight assists. Wall had a terrible shooting night, missing 10 of his 16 field goal attempts, but he wasn't the only one, as Thornton and Arenas combined to shoot 3 for 22 from the floor. Arenas scored just five points in a season-high 31 minutes, but he missed 12 of his 14 field goal attempts, including several wide-open three-pointers - he was 1 for 9 - and a point-blank layup.

Thornton had been the Wizards' most consistent player through the first six games, but said he felt "a bad, pulling sensation in my stomach" before the game. He was hoping that he could play through the pain, which became a challenge against Wallace, the hard-charging all-star. After outscoring his first six opposing small forwards 96-32, Thornton was held to just two points on 1-of-8 shooting.

"It was extremely painful out there to move. I want to say a cramp. I might've pulled something, I'm not sure," said Thornton, who will be evaluated on Saturday in Chicago, where the Wizards will face the Bulls.

Thornton sat the final 20 minutes of the game, unable to re-enter in the second half when Saunders wanted to put him back in. "You could see he didn't have the same pop that he's had in other games," Saunders said. "You can tell he didn't feel it."

Even with Thornton sitting and Wall and Arenas struggling from the floor, the Wizards were still able to come back from a 10-point second-half deficit to take a 77-74 lead with 6 minutes 58 seconds remaining. Arenas found McGee cutting inside for a dunk, then connected with Blatche for a layup. Blatche then rebounded his own miss to tip in another layup.

The Wizards wouldn't get another field goal for more than four minutes, when Arenas buried his only three-pointer of the game to bring the Wizards within 89-83. They had an opportunity to pull closer when Yi (eight points, six blocks) rejected Nazr Mohammed's layup attempt, but when Wall sprinted up the floor, Wallace crept in from behind to block the shot and knock the ball off Wall. Wallace then put the game away on the other end, driving inside while getting a foul called on Yi, who appeared to be standing outside the restricted area. "Terrible call," Saunders said.

Blatche said the loss was result of several breakdowns in the closing minutes. "We can't keep having the same screw-ups in the fourth quarter. This is becoming a habit for us, and that can't be a habit. I don't know what it is we're going do, but we've got to do something. It's starting to be unacceptable."


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