By Gene Wang
Thursday, February 24, 2011; D04
The Washington Wizards had spoken extensively about establishing a winning environment in their first game back from the nearly five-day all-star break. Instead, the product on the court Tuesday night featured more of the same failings, and boy was it unsightly.
So dispiriting was Washington's 113-96 loss to Indiana that boos began raining down at Verizon Center midway through the third quarter. Even the most loyal supporters among the announced 14,328 clearly had become intolerant with another clunker in which the Wizards simply were no match in most meaningful categories.
The most notable was at the free throw line, where the Pacers made 19 more appearances thanks to a commitment to getting the ball inside. Rookie point guard John Wall, meanwhile, was at times the only Wizards player displaying the moxie actually to venture into the painted area, and the punishment took its toll on the MVP of the all-star weekend's rookie-sophomore game. The No. 1 overall pick finished with 15 points but took 15 shots. He added 10 assists and eight rebounds but had six turnovers.
Then there was the glaring disparity in bench points. The Pacers had seven reserves contribute 48 points, and every player on their roster scored. The Wizards (15-40), meantime, had five backups score 25 points while using seven overall.
But don't think for a moment Washington's starters were necessarily an upgrade. Perhaps the worst offender was guard Nick Young, who missed his first nine shots and finished 4 for 15 with a misleading 16 points. Center JaVale McGee was a virtual non-factor with five points in 22-plus minutes, a far less compelling performance than either his three- or two-ball slams in the NBA's dunk contest this past weekend.
"Guys just didn't bring no effort," Blatche said. "They outworked us from every position. For a minute it didn't seem like guys cared after a while, like we just gave in to a team that we're definitely much better than if we compete, but nobody brought heart tonight with them."
Even with Blatche and Howard contributing in the first half, the Pacers were able to gain sufficient separation by the break and then pull away for good early in the third quarter. That's when Indiana used a 15-1 burst, including a three-point play from center Roy Hibbert and a three-pointer by forward Danny Granger, to claim a 73-52 lead with 7 minutes 43 seconds left in the period.
Granger led the Pacers (25-30) with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Hibbert, who played many a college game at Verizon Center with Georgetown, added 14 points and six rebounds. Tyler Hansbrough, the object of pronounced derision throughout, sparked the reserves with 17 points in 22 minutes. He shot 4 of 7 from the field, 9 of 10 from the line and added five rebounds in a game in which the Pacers' 51-49 advantage on the boards belied how much more energy they applied there.
"They got some bullies on their team," said Young, who re-entered the lineup after missing Wednesday's 101-76 loss at Orlando immediately before the all-star break with a bruised left knee. "They played harder getting rebounds. We kind of shied away, so we've got to get more angry, get more nasty."
The listless effort sent Washington to its 12th loss in 13 games and second in a row following a 115-100 victory at Cleveland on Feb. 13. That ended the Wizards' 0-26 record on the road this season and provided the only highlight since they inexplicably beat visiting Boston, 85-83, on Jan. 22 for their most memorable win of the season.
The manner in which the Wizards have lost lately also is particularly disturbing. Once among the league's more credible teams at home, Washington has lost three straight at Verizon Center by an average of nearly 19 points.
"Disappointed because we're trying to find guys. We're giving guys opportunities," said Coach Flip Saunders, who did not have guard Kirk Hinrich, a top reserve, available because of a bruised right calf. "At times we just didn't have anyone that jumped up there and said, 'Hey, I'm going to do it,' and take advantage of the opportunities that were there, that were presented to them."