Wizards watch chances evaporate
Friday, January 14, 2011
MINNEAPOLIS - It was the flukiest of fluke plays, a rarity that led to laughter and surprise. And there was no doubt what the Washington Wizards hoped it represented when Minnesota Timberwolves center Darko Milicic tapped a jump ball from the foul line over his head and into the Wizards' basket.
Milicic could only shake his head and smile after the ball bounced off the rim and rolled in. Al Thornton smiled as well because he got credit with a field goal.
"That was kind of crazy," Thornton said afterward.
For a team that has struggled to get much to go its way on the road, the gift first-quarter basket from Minnesota on Thursday night could have served as a sign of good fortune. Instead, it was simply a nice gesture by the hosts to spot the league's worst road team a couple of points.
The Wizards haven't officially forfeited every game away from Verizon Center this season, but they have produced the same result over and over again this season, through full-game no-shows or fourth quarter collapses. They chose the latter Thursday as they dropped to 0-19 on the road this season with a 109-97 loss to one of the few teams in the NBA that entered the night with fewer wins.
"It's embarrassing," John Wall said after scoring 14 points with 10 assists. "The only team left that ain't got a win on the road. It ain't like we a bad team. We gave about six or seven games away on the road, and a couple at home."
Wall then repeated what he has said far too many times in his rookie year: "We just got to learn how to finish out on the road."
Coming off his career-high 43-point performance two nights before against Sacramento, Nick Young scored 15 points and gave the Wizards a four-point lead with 5 minutes 46 seconds left. Timberwolves Coach Kurt Rambis called a timeout and Young nodded his head as he ran down the floor. But after the game, Young was shaking his head in astonishment, unable to fathom how the Wizards failed to finish and instead got burned 19-1 over the next four minutes.
"Had the lead. At that point, we're supposed to just kill them. Feed off the momentum," Young said. "But they made a push. They made a quick turnaround."
Timberwolves forward Kevin Love scored eight of his game-high 35 points and made two three-pointers during the game-changing swing that started when Milicic dribbled behind his back and spun around Yi Jianlian to make a layup. Love then made a three-pointer to give the Timberwolves a 95-94 lead and they never trailed again. Love finished 5 for 6 from beyond the three-point line, pushing the lead to 103-95 with 2:18 remaining when he stroked another long jumper. After Coach Flip Saunders called timeout, Love waved his hands, encouraging the fans at Target Center to make more noise and shouted, "Whoo!"
"We expected Love would be a handful," Saunders said. "We thought he had a chance to beat us. But he beat us from the three-point line. I don't think we anticipated he would knock down as many as he did."
Love also grabbed 11 rebounds, extending his string of consecutive double-doubles to 26. Rashard Lewis was forced to guard the rebound-inhaling forward with Andray Blatche sitting out after spraining his right shoulder in the previous game against the Kings. Lewis scored a team-high 19 points and did a decent job of keeping Love off the glass when they shared the floor.
"We did a good job fighting him, but that's what good players do. They find another way to get themselves going. He shot the ball well, hit some big threes," said Lewis, adding that the Wizards may have started to sulk after those late makes. "A little bit, but we got to play through. We can't hold our heads down because anything can happen."
Timberwolves guard Corey Brewer had four steals, twice catching the Wizards napping on inbounds passes. After Luke Ridnour (16 points, nine assists) made a three-pointer in the second period, Young leaned over to tie his shoe and Brewer left him alone to chase down the ball. Brewer sneaked in as Yi threw the ball to Wall, stole it and was fouled. In the third period, Lewis intended to throw the ball to Wall, but he flinched when he saw Brewer approaching. He instead tossed a pass to JaVale McGee, who wasn't looking, and Brewer made a layup to give the Timberwolves a 68-60 lead.
The Wizards had seemingly overcome some careless errors to be in position to win. But after Young's three-pointer, the Wizards missed their next seven shots, before Kirk Hinrich (18 points) ended a more than five-minute scoring drought with a layup with 12.1 seconds left.
"We came into this game feeling like this is a team we could beat," Thornton said. "It could've been the end of an 18-game losing streak, but we just didn't close it out."
Even after a little assistance from the home team.
"You hope it kicks in," Saunders said. "I'm not going to say it's not frustrating, because it is. You go in, watch film with them, keep working with them, keeping talking to them. You have to keep on going. It's not from lack of effort, our guys try."