By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 1:41 AM
With 19 games left in a regular season that can't conclude quickly enough, the Washington Wizards are heading back to training camp. At least that's the message Coach Flip Saunders imparted to his players in the locker room immediately following Tuesday night's 95-76 loss to Milwaukee and the tactic he began implementing the next morning.
The intent of this preseason-like environment is primarily to moderate the sense of entitlement for a team that's lost nine of 10, including six of seven at home, and is in the business of evaluation rather than reflection. After all, looking back really makes no sense - the wreckage at 16-47 is too unsightly - and with mounting injuries as well as a procession of newcomers, this final stretch as a practical matter necessitates constructing next season's roster.
"Is it tough? Yeah," Coach Flip Saunders said. "It's tough for the fans. It's tough for the players. It's tough for everybody. But in talking to [Wizards majority owner] Ted Leonsis, you have to you know, 'Where do you want to be? Do you want to be there short term, or do you want to be there long term?'"
The foundation of course is rookie point guard John Wall, whose place in the starting lineup is all but unassailable. Other than the No. 1 overall pick, however, no starting position is ensured, and neither is playing time heading into Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Part of that is tied to starting power forward Andray Blatche joining Washington's lengthy injury list. Blatche has a right shoulder strain after falling hard against the Bucks in the opening minutes, and his status is day-to-day, according to team officials, who indicated an MRI exam on Wednesday morning revealed no structural damage.
Before Blatche's injury, the Wizards already were without Rashard Lewis (right knee tendinitis) and Josh Howard (strained hamstring), both of whom have started at small forward, and swingman Cartier Martin (right patella tendinitis). Lewis and Martin did not practice on Wednesday.
"It's like anybody when you don't have main guys," Saunders said. "This is a talent league. Teams that win are teams that have talent, and veteran talent usually. Young talent goes through growing pains, and so we're going through those growing pains. We won't know until when they get older if what we've gone through was beneficial and did it facilitate their development, but that's what you hope."
That youth was never more apparent than during a four-minute stretch bridging the end of the first quarter and the start of the second. Joining Wall on the court were Jordan Crawford, Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Hamady Ndiaye to complete an all-rookie lineup that acquitted itself admirably in light of the circumstances.
Other than Wall, none was averaging more than 16 minutes.
Ndiaye played for the first time since Dec. 16, and Crawford was participating in just his seventh game with the Wizards since joining the team in a trade with Atlanta on Feb. 23. Crawford finished with a career- and team-high 22 points.
"We play with energy, but we do it in spurts," said Crawford, who was the New Jersey Nets' first-round pick (27th overall). "We don't do it the whole game. I think the end of the second and the beginning of the third is where we have trouble. If we just maintain the way we play in the first quarter and the fourth, we'll be pretty good."
Saunders did not specify if he intends to use the all-rookie lineup again, although that decision figures to depend heavily on the availability of the team's ailing players. In addition to injuries along the front line, the Wizards are monitoring the condition of starting shooting guard Nick Young, who played against Milwaukee with a sore knee.
Young missed 9 of 13 shots, including 0 for 4 from three-point range, for 10 points, his fewest since scoring four in a 118-94 loss to San Antonio on Feb. 12. The Wizards' leading scorer sat out Saturday's 103-96 loss to Minnesota because of flu-like symptoms and had been averaging 26.5 points in his previous two games entering Tuesday.
"That's a concern," Saunders said of the rash of injuries. "What we want to do is probably make sure we go hard, but we go shorter, make sure we stay at a high intensity but maybe not go quite as long."