Wizards Insider: Wizards keep fighting...and losing on the road

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By Michael Lee
Tuesday, February 1, 2011; 11:26 AM

Maybe it's because I've been around the team all season, and have grown accustomed to the Wizards' inability to close out games. Maybe it's because the Wizards don't have a Dirk Nowitzki, a Kevin Durant, or some guy who you know is going to get a bucket in crunch time. Or maybe it's because the Wizards simply weren't going to get many favorable calls on the road.

But there never was a point in the fourth quarter that I thought that the Wizards were going to upset the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night. They were within four points with less than three minutes remaining, and trailed by five in the final minute, but I remember saying, "I keep waiting for that backbreaking three-pointer."

I sensed it was coming, and it did, after the Wizards stood in amazement to watch Tyson Chandler grab a rebound that soared over the backboard, extending a possession that ended when Jason Kidd made a three-pointer from the left corner that sent them to a 102-92 loss at American Airlines Center.

Perhaps the Wizards should have at least one or two road wins by now, but they don't. And, there is no denying that this team is deficient in too many areas to win on the road without the benefit of several excellent performances and some favorable bounces. They understand their plight, continue to fight and continue to lose.

After the game, I asked Flip Saunders about how hard it is for the team to win without a lot working in their favor and he gave one his longest answers of the season. I went back and checked. It was 1 minute, 42 seconds. Saunders spelled out the entire predicament:

"That's who we are. When you're young and you're not as talented as the team you're facing, and you're facing good teams -- this is a good team -- you don't have a big margin of error We've gone out and we've competed. [Trevor Booker] went out and competed, got in some foul trouble and he didn't back down. John [Wall] bounced back in a very positive way. Our young guys are expanding. From a standpoint of what we're trying to do, it's tough to say we've lost 24 in a row. It's tough to say. But you know, we know where we were when the season started. We're doing things based on where we're going to be next year and in two years.

"Kevin Durant, you look at where they are, his first year, they won 20 games...Sometimes, you've got to go through some growing pains," he said. "Is it tough at the time? There's no question. Is it tough on your fans? There is no question. But you hope that they understand and they see, our guys, they don't quit. Do they get down on ourselves? Yes, that happens because of maturity, but they don't quit and they get out there and they compete. I've never gone through a stretch. It not like we've lost 24 in a row, because you go home, win two and you forget about it, until you come back on the road and are reminded. Even though our guys have always bounced back from a bad performance and they keep a positive attitude. We work on development everyday and our guys are getting better. We're going to get one. Hopefully sooner than later."

The mood after most road losses has mostly been anger, but the Wizards focused on the positives of a game that they nearly won, even with two of their leading scorers, Andray Blatche and Nick Young, combining to go just 10 for 37 from the floor.

They were a spunky bunch, as Blatche played through pain in his right shoulder to grab 13 rebounds and Young never lost his confidence, even as he missed 14 of his 20 field goal attempts. He made a jumper in the fourth quarter that brought the Wizards within 81-75 and shouted toward the Mavericks bench, "All day! All day!" He then missed his last four shots.

"They've got some talented guys that know how to play and can put the ball in the basket," Kidd said. "This is a tough team to play, no matter what their record is. They come out and play hard."

The Wizards believe that they are getting closer, and getting better, after pushing Oklahoma City to double overtime and hanging with the Mavericks until the final minute. "This whole road trip, we haven't got a win but there is an upside," Blatche said. "We've been very aggressive. We've been competitive. We just been working hard, except for this Memphis game. It's just down late in the game, things aren't going our way."

They spent a good amount of time complaining about calls or non-calls, and Saunders eventually picked up a technical foul when he thought Ian Mahinmi had blocked off Yi Jianlian with an illegal screen to let Nowitzki get inside for a layup.

Saunders's anger lit a fire under his players and pushed them to get within four points when Yi made two free throws. But Nowtizki, a former league MVP who has learned through years of repetition how to finish off inferior competition, came right back to hit a jumper. Wall and Young then missed three of four free throws, keeping the Wizards from getting close enough to make the Mavericks sweat. Wall was upset that he missed some late free throws, as he did on Friday in Oklahoma City.

"We knew we was playing against a talented team, that's lost a couple of players, but they still are one of the best teams in the West Coast, still can score in various ways and we got two great closers down the stretch in Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry," Wall said. "We fought. It's tough, down the stretch, ball didn't fall our way and shot didn't fall our way, but I thought we competed very hard."

And lost, again.

"We've got to keep playing," Rashard Lewis said. "Even though we haven't won a game on the road, we can't put our head down. We've got to keep pushing forward, trying to win ball games."


© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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