By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 29, 2011; 1:19 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Washington Wizards arrived in town with their starting center back home, fighting a serious bout with the flu. Their season-long road futility had made them fodder for jokes and they were playing in one of the league's loudest arenas, against a team that flourishes at home. In four previous games in this building, the Wizards had always wound up on the losing end.
"Undermanned, losing streak, never won here - everything is pointing our way," Coach Flip Saunders joked Friday before his team opened a four-game trip against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Wizards may have discovered every which way to fold in their first 21 losses away from Verizon Center this season, but in a hostile environment, against one of the best teams in the Western Conference, they looked poised, confident and collected for a full 48 minutes. Then they kept it going for five more. But they didn't have enough to hang around for 58 minutes, as their best road performance of the season ended with the same result as the others - a loss, 124-117 in double overtime at Oklahoma City Arena. With the defeat, the Wizards matched the third-longest road losing streak to start a season in NBA history.
"We lost 22 on the road, but we're not an 0-22 team if we compete as we did," Saunders said. "There's no moral victories. Does it hurt? Yeah it hurts, those guys in there hurt because that's all people talk about. That's going to be the headline on 'SportsCenter.' They are going to make fun that we haven't won a game on the road. But being undermanned as we were, we competed and I can't fault them. I can't fault how hard we played."
With JaVale McGee unable to travel with the team after falling ill, Trevor Booker got the start and the assignment of defending the league's leading scorer, District native Kevin Durant. Booker responded by providing hustle, scrapping for rebounds and loose balls, and also scoring when needed. He finished with career highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out in the second overtime.
"It feels pretty good," Booker said of his career night, "but I'd rather have the win. I just tried to go in there, grab some rebounds, make everybody work on the offense, make them have to box me out. I think I did a decent job. It was tough, because I wanted to be on the court at crunch time. To foul out, it hurt."
Free of Booker hounding him, Durant scored 10 of his game-high 40 points in overtime. Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was equally impressive as he scorched the court and had a triple-double, notching 35 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists.
"Another great point guard. Very explosive and athletic. He does a great job of pushing it and getting to the paint," Wizards rookie John Wall said of Westbrook. "That's the way I got to learn how to play. You can take something from somebody every game."
Nick Young led the Wizards (13-32) with 32 points, giving them a 115-112 lead when he caught a pass from Wall and made a three-pointer with 4 minutes 3 seconds left in the second overtime. But Durant sprinted down the court, coerced Booker into fouling out, and converted a three-point play that ignited a 12-2 run to close out the game.
"Durant is a wonderful scorer. He created shots for himself and got his team a win," said Andray Blatche, who found himself switching and defending Durant in the final minutes after Booker fouled out. "That's what scorers like him do."
Wall finished with 13 points and 10 assists, but he shot just 5 for 19 from the field and struggled keeping up with Westbrook, who never seemed to tire as he set up his teammates for alley-oop dunks or took the ball the basket himself for layups or drew fouls. "One thing you can't do in this league, if you've got one guy going at you at one end, and you're not aggressive at the other end, it's a mismatch," Saunders said. "And at times, he was letting Westbrook be too aggressive. John got his butt kicked."
The No. 1 overall pick was noticeably flustered in the first overtime as he rushed two three-pointers with the game tied at 110. The first attempt was blocked by Westbrook, leading to a shot clock violation. Wall then hesitated to take the second attempt and missed badly after waiting for Westbrook to contest it. Saunders was so upset he tossed his water bottle to the ground. Young screamed at Wall on the sideline, "C'mon, man."
Wall walked away and grabbed a seat. As they came out of the timeout, Wall forced Westbrook into a miss, grabbed the rebound and angrily slapped the ball. Young missed an 18-foot jumper that could have won the game, then Rashard Lewis (22 points, eight rebounds) missed a putback off the backboard.
"We kept fighting, kept playing," Lewis said. "We took a good Western Conference team to two overtimes. That should speak volumes, even though we didn't win the game."
The Wizards led 82-75 early in the fourth quarter when Lewis made a step-back jumper, but the Thunder (30-16) responded by scoring eight unanswered, taking a one-point lead when reserve guard Daequan Cook made a three-pointer. Blatche responded by getting fouled while making a reverse layup to put the Wizards up 85-83 and the game went back-and-forth from there. Former Georgetown star Jeff Green made a layup to tie the game at 93 before Young made back-to-back jumpers. And after Durant made two free throws, Young made two more free throws to put the Wizards ahead 99-95. They wouldn't lead again until Wall made a three-pointer early in overtime.
"This is the best we played on the road," Wall said. "I wish we would've got that first road win."
The Wizards will get another shot on Saturday in Memphis.