By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2010; 2:59 AM
SACRAMENTO -- The Washington Wizards are a wildly unpredictable bunch, known to look undisciplined and focused, scrappy and apathetic, often in the same game. They also rarely arrive at an arena aware of which players they'll have available, which disrupts the establishment of chemistry and forces nearly every player to either stay ready or get caught off guard.
They were placed in another precarious situation Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings as Coach Flip Saunders was forced to change his starting lineup only minutes before tipoff when John Wall decided he was unable to play for the seventh time this season because of soreness in his left foot. Kirk Hinrich was put back in the starting lineup, which had already been altered as Saunders gave rookies Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin their first career starts over the injured Andray Blatche and the recently ineffective Javale McGee.
The lack of familiarity on an ever-changing roster was evident as the Wizards committed 24 turnovers, appeared lost on defense, and lost their 12th consecutive road game, 116-91. The loss was also the Wizards' fifth by 20 or more points, this time coming against a team that entered the game on an eight-game losing streak.
"We just didn't have the energy, didn't play through adversity, I'm very disappointed," said Saunders, whose postgame interview session timed in at less than a minute.
He certainly couldn't have been pleased in the closing seconds, when McGee (13 points, nine rebounds) stole an inbounds pass and attempted to take off from just inside the foul line for a dunk. But in a scene representative of the entire night, the ball squirted from McGee's hands and he missed badly.
Before the game, Saunders warned his team about taking care of the ball, but the message didn't stick as the Wizards (6-15) had more than twice as many turnovers (23) as assists (11). Gilbert Arenas and Hinrich, the most seasoned players on the Wizards roster, had 19 points and 18 points respectively, but they combined for 10 turnovers. "We got a little turnover happy," Hinrich said after the game. "That really hurt us tonight. It seems like every night it's something. They just played harder than us."
The Kings thoroughly outplayed the Wizards, as they dished out more assists (27), grabbed more rebounds (48-36) and shot better from the field (54.2-41.3). Jason Thompson had 22 points and 14 rebounds while Beno Udrih had 23 points and six assists to lead the Kings (5-15). Pooh Jeter came off the bench to get 13 points and nine assists, stealing the ball from Arenas and tossing a lob to Thompson at one point in the fourth period. The Kings scored 33 points off Wizards turnovers.
Washington was probably ready to head home at the end of the third period when Tyreke Evans used a dribble juke to get some separation on Al Thornton. Evans stepped back and shot a three-pointer that bounded on the rim a few times before falling to give Sacramento a 22-point lead. Hinrich dropped his hands and shook his head in disbelief.
"It was one of those games, you put it in the back of your head and forget about it," Thornton said after scoring a team-high 20 points. "It was a winnable game. We thought we could get our first road win. It was a heartless performance as a whole."
That it came one night after an encouraging second half performance in a 115-108 loss to the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers was even more disconcerting. "It just feels like we used up all our energy during the Laker game," Arenas said. "We just didn't come out tonight. It is a long season. We've got to come play 48 minutes every city we go. Tonight was not one of those nights."
Wall mentioned after the Lakers game that he had injured his foot twice. He felt some soreness, but attempted to run a few sprints about an hour before the game, but after going baseline-to-baseline a few times, Wall limped into the locker room. He gave it a go during the layup line, but decided it wasn't worth the risk and missed his seventh game of the season. "I just took myself out instead of hurting myself more and hurting the team," said Wall, who missed four games with a sprained left foot a few weeks ago, then sat another two with a bruised left knee. "I couldn't move like I wanted to. I've got to do a great job of taking care of myself and not forcing myself to play when I'm not fully healthy. Tonight was a tough contest to miss out."
Saunders said he fully expected to have Wall until moments before the starters were announced. "It definitely hurts. Not having your players makes it extremely difficult," Saunders said, including Blatche, who missed his second game with a bruised left hip.
At times, the Wizards were unable to contain their frustration. Arenas had waited for Booker to make a cut to the basket, but Booker never moved and the team earned a shot clock violation. Arenas shouted at Booker, then went into the lane to show Booker where he needed to be for a catch, and cursed. Arenas then shook his head while walking away before assistant coach Randy Wittman came up to Booker to explain the mistake.
Near the end of the first half, Nick Young was driving left when Beno Udrih knocked the ball loose to force a turnover. Saunders put his hands above his head, and his emotions quickly vacillated between anger, pleasure, and anger again. Udrih looked to push the ball ahead, but Cartier Martin stole it right back, setting up a comedic sequence. Martin passed the ball to 6-foot-10 Seraphin at halfcourt, which resulted in a predictable outcome. Seraphin dribbled up the floor and tried to force a pass to Young that Udrih stole right back. A turnover, steal and turnover in a span of six seconds.
"I know we took a big step back [tonight]," Booker said.