By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2011; 12:32 AM
PHILADELPHIA - The Washington Wizards have made a maddening ritual of unraveling in the fourth quarter this season, and often that has contributed to their prodigious failings on the road. They followed the blueprint for disappointment again on Wednesday night, withering defensively down the stretch in a 109-97 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers before 12,434 at Wells Fargo Center.
Washington dropped to 0-17 on the road, remains the only team in the NBA without a road victory and has not won away from Verizon Center since April 9, 2010. It has lost three in a row and six of seven and once again was unable to hold a lead when it mattered most. This time it was an 81-80 margin following a three-pointer by Nick Young with 8 minutes 58 seconds to play.
After that basket, the 76ers got a three-pointer from reserve guard Lou Williams and a three-point play by starting guard Jrue Holiday to regain a lead they wouldn't relinquish. The Wizards drew within a point, 86-85, with 6:11 remaining, but Philadelphia scored eight of the next 10 points.
"The frustration is losing the game that you're in," Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said when asked about the team's road futility. "Guys don't remember who we played three games ago on the road. The disappointing thing is that when we've got to make clutch plays in clutch situations as far as on the road, your margin of error is not as much. We haven't been able to do that in the fourth quarters."
The most definitive indicator of those types of late-game breakdowns was Washington allowing the Sixers to make 10 of 14 shots in the fourth quarter, including 2 of 2 from three-point range. The 76ers also went 11 for 13 from the foul line in the fourth quarter and attempted 20 more free throws overall.
Washington had five players finish in double figures, led by Young's 21 points. Rookie point guard John Wall continued his exceptional play against Philadelphia this season with 18 points and 14 assists and just one turnover, and recently acquired forward Rashard Lewis chipped in 18 points and 10 rebounds.
But all that wasn't enough by a long shot to counter dazzling performances from Holiday and Williams, each of whom scored a game-high 26 points. They combined to make 17 of 24 shots, and they went to the foul line 20 times, making 16. Holiday added nine assists, four rebounds and two steals.
"We did a poor job of offensive execution and a poor job of defending pick and rolls," Saunders said. "Bigs didn't give enough help. Their guards got in the paint on us and destroyed us."
The Wizards (8-25) lost for the first time to Philadelphia in three games this season. Washington had won the previous two games, both in overtime and by a combined three points, and Wall finished with 54 points and 19 assists total in those games, in part because he still had not absorbed the punishment often associated with boring deep into the lane.
After appearing a bit cautious early trying to get into the painted area, Wall became much more forceful in that regard starting late in the third quarter, and the Wizards benefited. His first of two determined moves resulted in a layup that gave Washington a 66-63 lead, and he made another driving layup soon while being fouled. Once he made the free throw, the Wizards again led by three, 71-68.
The 76ers (14-21) closed the third by scoring the final five points, including a three-pointer from Williams with 0.1 of a second to play. Officials reviewed the shot to make sure it was in fact beyond the three-point arc, and when they confirmed it, Washington trailed, 76-75, heading into the final period.
Early in the fourth, the Wizards got a field goal from Al Thornton and a technical free throw by Kirk Hinrich (13 points, four assists) to close to 80-78 before Young's three-pointer from the left corner gave Washington its final lead of the game.
"Fourth-quarter lapses, you know," Wall said. "We break down from what we were doing in the first three quarters to help us get that lead or be right in the game. I think every fourth quarter we go into a slump for two minutes straight. You can't do that on the road because they're making shots, and you're missing."
Wizards note: Washington released reserve guard Lester Hudson on Wednesday, team President Ernie Grunfeld announced shortly before tip-off. Hudson played in 11 games in two stints with the Wizards, compiling 18 points and 17 rebounds in 73 total minutes. Hudson signed on Sept. 24, was waived on Nov. 22 and re-signed on Dec. 20. The move leaves the Wizards with 14 players on the active roster.