By Michael Lee
Wednesday, March 16, 2011; D05
The Washington Wizards got off to an ominous start against the Oklahoma City Thunder. As the tradition goes at Verizon Center, the public address announcer asked fans to stand until the Wizards scored their first basket.
On their first four possessions, JaVale McGee drove down the lane and attempted an underhanded scoop that resulted in an air ball, Josh Howard had his shot blocked by Thunder all-star and District native Kevin Durant, John Wall barely grazed the rim on a jumper, then Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka pinned Wall's layup attempt against the rim.
The Thunder scored easily after every Wizards miss, forcing Coach Flip Saunders to call a timeout less than two minutes into the game and leaving fans confused about whether they should stay on their feet or grab a seat. Most gave up and sat down, and the announcer begged them to repeat the ordeal, which some did.
But after Nick Young finally made a jumper, there was little left to cheer about for the home team as the Wizards got hammered, 116-89. And, with 6 minutes 13 seconds remaining, most of the 17,291 fans flooded the exits after Thunder reserve Daequan Cook made his sixth three-pointer to give his team a 31-point lead. The others stuck around to boo the Wizards off the court.
"I know it's tough to look at for a lot of people. It's tough to coach. Growing pains are extremely difficult," Saunders said after the Wizards (16-49) lost for the 11th time in 12 games, with their past three losses by 19, 21 and 27 points, respectively.
"We knew there'd be nights like this, we hoped there wouldn't be as many nights."
Saunders then tried to add some humor: "Good thing is, we get to go play Chicago [on Tuesday] in Chicago. That's the positive thing."
The chances of the misery coming to an end on Tuesday are slim with the Wizards on the road - where they are 1-29 - against a Bulls team that is tied with Boston for the best record in the Eastern Conference and already has three wins this season against the Wizards. And, Washington is short-handed and banged up.
In their last meeting in Oklahoma City, the Wizards were able to force the Thunder to overtime before losing, 124-117. But on that night, they had Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche combine for 35 points. Neither player was around for the rematch, as Lewis missed his fourth straight game with a sore right knee and Blatche missed his second with a sprained right shoulder.
The situation worsened on Monday as Howard's troublesome left knee again flared up, forcing him to sit the entire second half after going scoreless and missing all six of his field goal attempts. Young tried to keep playing on his sore left knee, but after making his first three shots, he missed 12 of his last 13 and finished with just 11 points.
"I don't think it matters that we know people are hurt and it's a rebuilding process; you still shouldn't not have no heart, not fight, and not compete and not be into games. We're not looking for no excuses. It's just us not playing hard and not competing," Wall said after scoring 14 points with seven rebounds and five assists. "No team is going to back down. No matter what, they are going to keep the pedal to the metal and if they got you by 40, they are going to try to get it to 60. One thing we got to learn is, nobody is going to care and feel sorry for you not playing hard and not having people on the court."
Making his only appearance back home, Durant scored a game-high 32 points, providing an incredible highlight in the third quarter when he extended his arm well behind his head to catch a pass from Russell Westbrook for an alley-oop dunk. Durant also nailed five three-pointers in six tries, with his last long distance shot giving the Thunder a 91-64 lead in the period and allowing him to sit - along with the rest of Oklahoma City's starters - in the fourth quarter.
"Partly it's who we're playing and the number of bodies we're playing with," Saunders said. "Going in, we knew it was going to be very tough. Right now, we're very much outmanned physically."
The Wizards had six players score in double figures, including Kevin Seraphin (career-high 12 points). Rookie Trevor Booker had 14 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and set a vicious pick in the first quarter on Westbrook, who crashed to the floor, got back up and said a few words toward the Wizards' bench. Westbrook (18 points, 12 assists) got some payback shortly thereafter, when he stole a pass by Howard and streaked around Wall for a layup and then intercepted a Wall pass and set up James Harden (16 points) for a fast-break dunk.
"He's a tough guy," Booker said of Westbrook. "I try to set hard legal picks and get our team going. Unfortunately, it didn't work."
Little, if anything, seems to be working for the Wizards these days.