Wizards fall, even with Wall

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 27, 2010

SAN ANTONIO - There was John Wall, back after missing more than two weeks of action, pulling out a Manu Ginobili move, whirling the ball behind his back and dropping a pretty left-hand layup. Rashard Lewis appeared comfortable in his second game with his new team, providing the perimeter shooting the Washington Wizards had hoped for when they acquired him from the Orlando Magic.

Kirk Hinrich, despite the rainbow-colored shiner beneath his left eye, ran the team well and could hardly miss in the first half. And Hilton Armstrong helped limit Tim Duncan to five points, which used to equate to success against the San Antonio Spurs.

While there were some positives that could be taken from Sunday's game at AT&T Center, the undermanned Wizards couldn't come away with a road victory against the team that holds the league's best record.

With Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee serving a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team, the Wizards lost, 94-80, to the Spurs and extended their franchise record for consecutive road defeats to start the season at 14.

The Wizards have lost 11 straight games in San Antonio, with Lewis the only player on their current roster who was in the NBA on Dec. 11, 1999.

"I can't fault our guys as far as effort," Coach Flip Saunders said. "When you're undermanned like that, you almost have to play perfect basketball."

The Wizards (7-21) will have Blatche and McGee back in uniform on Monday in Houston, where they will attempt to avoid matching the team record of 15 straight road losses. Blatche and McGee issued apologies for getting involved in a scuffle with each other outside a Washington area nightclub last week. The team had initially deemed it "simply a disagreement between teammates" but decided to punish the players after further investigation.

Blatche wrote in a text message: "I'm very sorry for the incident. I had no intention of this ever happening. I apologize for my behavior, to my family, the whole Wizards organization, my fans, my teammates and coaches." McGee expressed a similar sentiment on his Twitter account.

Without his leading scorer in Blatche and leading rebounder in McGee, Saunders went with his 13th different starting lineup, giving the nods to Lewis and Armstrong, both of whom played well. Lewis scored a team-high 21 points with 12 rebounds and Armstrong added 13 rebounds before being forced to leave early in the fourth quarter after suffering a mild right foot sprain trying to block a shot by the Spurs' Gary Neal and landing awkwardly. Armstrong will be listed as day-to-day.

"It always hurts to be short-handed, but everybody else was ready to play," Armstrong said. "I'm proud of how everybody stepped up. We didn't come out with the victory, but we all played hard. We're making some improvements from a couple of weeks ago to now. I think we're starting to get there."

Wall returned to action for the first time since a loss to New York on Dec. 10 and appeared to be a little rusty after sitting the past five games with a bone bruise under his right knee. Wall finished with just four points, on 2-of-9 shooting, with six rebounds and four assists in just less than 20 minutes.

He joked afterward about being a little out of condition. "I hadn't played in two weeks and a half, so running on a bike is different than running on the court, especially chasing a talented point guard in Tony Parker," Wall said. "Before [Saunders] took me out the first time, five plays before that, I was trying to get out of there. I just wasn't used to it."

Wall still showed flashes of his dizzying speed. Saunders called on the No. 1 overall pick to enter the game with 6.1 seconds left in the second quarter. Wall got the ball and sprinted up the floor, where Ginobili was standing in the lane, waiting. Wall wrapped around the ball and Ginobili, frozen, could only admire as Wall completed a left-handed layup - in less than four seconds - that looked reminiscent of many of his animated forays to the rim.

"It's something I've been doing since high school. But yeah, he does that move, too," Wall said of Ginobili. "I got him with it."

Wall's spectacular shot brought the Wizards within 48-42 at halftime, but the Spurs took control in the third period, opening a 16-point lead as Ginobili and Parker (20 points, 14 assists) combined for 14 of their 33 points. The Wizards got within nine points with two Armstrong free throws with 9:27 remaining, but Ginobili (21 points and five three-pointers) responded with a three-pointer and Neal made a jumper over Armstrong that ended his night.

Hinrich had 15 points and seven assists but wasn't ready to celebrate hanging around with the team with the league's best record. "We should expect to. It's good that we did that, but it's not like we shouldn't expect to compete every night," he said. "I'm a little frustrated right now, I feel like we're starting to play the right way and trying to do the right things out there. We just haven't been able to put it all together quite yet."

After the game, Saunders expressed some disappointment in not having Blatche and McGee around. "Our players have known from the first day of camp that we have a zero tolerance, as far as incidents off the floor," he said. "It's unfortunate that they put themselves in that situation. It doesn't matter, youth and inexperience are not an excuse for anyone not acting in a professional manner. That's the disappointing thing."


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