By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 1, 2011; 12:13 AM
INDIANAPOLIS - Late in the fourth quarter of the Washington Wizards' 95-86 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday, Andray Blatche and Nick Young sat next to each other on the bench, flustered. Blatche covered his face with a towel and shook his head. Young buried himself under his warm-up T-shirt, recognizable only by the Afro poking through.
Instead of ending the calendar year with that elusive road victory, the Wizards dropped to 0-16 away from Verizon Center and it was unbearable to watch.
"We weren't doing what we did last game," Young said afterward, without mentioning the obvious reason for the change - location.
The Wizards' struggles on the road have hounded them all season, but the differences in the teams that play inside and outside of the comforts of home may not have been more glaring than during a home-and-home series against the Pacers.
After controlling the boards and limiting their turnovers at home two nights earlier, the Wizards got outrebounded and were sloppy with the ball at Conseco Fieldhouse. And after Blatche and Young were able to lead the Wizards to a win at Verizon Center, both struggled to get shots to fall, combining to miss 21 of 27 shots. Blatche was even more careless with the ball as he committed six of the Wizards' 22 turnovers.
The Pacers made sure that neither Blatche nor Young would hurt them in the rematch, limiting the duo to just 16 points after they combined to score 47 points in a 104-90 win on Wednesday.
"They came out more aggressive and [tried] to bother us more," Blatche said after scoring just eight points on 4-for-16 shooting and adding 12 rebounds and three blocks. "They took a toll on me and Nick, made it tough."
Coach Flip Saunders returned to the bench for the Wizards after spending the past few days in suburban Cleveland with his ailing mother, Debbie. Saunders had missed the previous game on Wednesday, but he watched on his iPad while in the intensive care unit as assistant Randy Wittman guided the team to victory.
With his mother's condition improving, Saunders was eager to get back with his team. But despite some inspired scoring bursts from John Wall (game-high 25 points), the chances of the Wizards ending their futility away from home were greatly diminished as Kirk Hinrich missed his first game with a left thigh contusion after being the only player to appear in the first 30 games.
And, the situation didn't improve much during the game, when Josh Howard developed some soreness in his surgically repaired left knee and sat the entire second half, mostly with a bag of ice on his knee. Howard was playing his sixth game since returning from left knee surgery but experienced a setback in the second period, after scoring just four points and missing all five of his field goal attempts. Howard said he should be available on Saturday against visiting New Orleans.
"I'll say, 'Yeah,' right now. Have to see how if feels," Howard said. "Sometimes I have setbacks. I have to see how I deal with it. Tonight wasn't a good night for me. But I gave it my all."
The Wizards (8-23) remain the only team in the NBA without consecutive wins as they lost in Indiana for the sixth game in a row. They never had much of a chance after the Pacers outscored them 24-12 in the second period, when Washington made just 2 of 14 shots and went the first nine minutes of the quarter without a field goal. Indiana extended its lead to 67-47 with 5 minutes 12 seconds left in the third quarter, when Pacers reserve Paul George (13 points) stole the ball from Wall and converted a three-point play.
With a huge contingent of Kentucky fans in the crowd, Wall then attempted to bring the team back, as he scored 13 of the next 15 points for the Wizards, trimming the deficit to 11 when he drove inside and former Georgetown center Roy Hibbert was called for goaltending. The Pacers then responded with a three-pointer by James Posey (11 points).
"They was looking for revenge from the other night. We played lackadaisical and let them get whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted," said Wall, who had seven turnovers. "I think the whole team, we just didn't come out and play with the intensity that we needed to fight against them."
Playing uphill the entire in the second half, the Wizards attempted to hang around, but could never get the stop or make the shot to keep runs alive. With Howard sidelined in the second half, Saunders called on Al Thornton, who rebounded from his first DNP-Coach's Decision with the Wizards two nights before, to score 11 points off the bench.
Thornton had a finger roll to bring the Wizards to 83-72 with 6:57 remaining, but the Pacers thwarted them with Hibbert (17 points, two blocks) dunking over JaVale McGee, and a short runner by Darren Collison (18 points).
Thornton then attempted to drive the ball along the baseline, and lost it to George. George darted down the floor and flipped a pass to Collison, who lobbed it right back to George for a dunk that extended the lead to 17. The Pacers (14-17) had 21 fast-break points, compared with just six for the Wizards.
"We've got to find a way to get a win on the road," Saunders said. "Even if we're below average, on the road, we win a few games and we're at the eighth, ninth or 10th spot [in the Eastern Conference playoff race], fighting for it. We have to have some carry-over from home to the road."