By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 11:50 PM
NEWARK - They were undermanned, out of sync, unfocused, and foundering, again. In desperate need of a win, on the road or otherwise, the Washington Wizards put forth a comedic display of bad passes, bad fouls and bad shots in the first half of their game against the equally woeful New Jersey Nets at Prudential Center.
JaVale McGee recovered a rebound, but Cartier Martin fell into him, forcing McGee to take extra steps backward to avoid a nastier collision and get called for traveling. Trevor Booker later set a screen for Gilbert Arenas but never turned his head as he made a cut to the basket. Despite seeing the back of Booker's No. 35 jersey, Arenas still attempted the pass, which bounced off Booker's head, leading to a fast-break jumper for the Nets' Devin Harris.
"I think I hit two players in the head with the ball today," Arenas said.
But even after a wretched performance that saw them trail by 23 points in the first half, the Wizards battled back to tie the score in the fourth period, only to have similar, disappointing result - a 97-89 defeat. As the final seconds ticked off on the Wizards' 13th consecutive road loss - and six straight overall - Hilton Armstrong lifted his jersey above his head to cover his face and trudged toward the locker room.
"I'm tired of losing. It just hurts so much," Armstrong said after the Wizards tied the 1989-90 Washington Bullets for the longest in-season, road-losing streak in franchise history. Overall, the Wizards have lost 14 road games in a row, dating from last season. The franchise record for consecutive road losses is 15.
"With the guys we have on this team, we can win so many more games. We just can't figure it out," Armstrong said. "We start off soft and passive and always have to play an uphill battle. We fight back, but don't come up with a win. If we play the same way for 48 minutes, our record would be completely different and it's so frustrating, because I know guys could do it. We showed it."
The Wizards (6-18) were without two of their top three scorers - John Wall and Andray Blatche - for the second game in a row, and also Yi Jianlian, which forced Coach Flip Saunders to utilize his 11th starting lineup. But Al Thornton still considered it a "winnable game" since the Nets were on an eight-game losing streak and had lost five straight games to the Wizards. But Wizards had no room for comfort, since they were in a similar situation last week in Sacramento but let the Kings end an eight-game losing skid with a 25-point romp.
They seemed destined for a repeat performance on Thursday, as they sleepwalked to a 48-25 deficit early in the second quarter. But after being virtually non-existent in the first half, Kirk Hinrich and Arenas brought the team back to life in the third period, combining for 17 points as the Wizards outscored the Nets, 29-19. They tied the score at 75 when Thornton (18 points) caught a pass from Arenas and made a finger roll with 8 minutes 52 seconds remaining.
"We were all just embarrassed at halftime, with our effort," said Hinrich, who scored all 10 of his points in the second half. "We tried to make up for it, but you can't play like that for a whole half and expect to win games. It's not like we don't have anything to prove. We have a lot to prove as a team, as individuals. We're searching for the answer why it's like that."
Nick Young scored a team-high 22 points, Arenas had eight of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, including 17-foot fadeaway jumper that brought the Wizards within 88-87 with 1:47 left. But the Nets (7-19) scored the next seven points, all from the foul line, where they made 35 of 47 attempts, to put the game away. Harris had a game-high 29 points, with 14 coming from free throws.
"The disappointment of not competing and feeling sorry for ourselves because we were missing players had me more mad at the end of the game," Saunders said. "I told our guys after the game that we can't keep making the same mistakes. It's not fair to the guys that do care and aren't making those mistakes. In this league, if you keep making the same mistakes, eventually you're going to get beat."
Saunders singled out McGee, who had just two points and five rebounds and struggled with fouls while trying to contend with Nets center Brook Lopez (18 points), who served as a battering ram to take out Wizards big men by making them collect fouls. Lopez and McGee both tried out for Team USA this summer. McGee was initially cut in favor of Lopez but was allowed to return for the final round of cuts only after Lopez backed out with a case of mononucleosis.
Lopez quickly went at McGee, and scored nine points as the Nets built an early 15-4 lead. McGee picked up two fouls, going to the bench after trying unsuccessfully to draw a charge. Armstrong and Kevin Seraphin also picked up two fouls each in the first quarter, and Saunders had to call on the seldom-used Hamady Ndiaye.
"He's a big body, great player, really offensive-minded, really smart," McGee said of Lopez, "but there is no excuse for the performance I put out there tonight. I felt we, myself included, didn't come out as aggressive as we should've. We did better in the second half, but it was too late by then."
Booker got his second career start in place of Blatche and finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.