So much for getting better.
The Washington Wizards, who claimed they were improving, even in defeat, resorted to their listless ways and got toyed with by the Phoenix Suns en route to losing, 99-85, tonight before 18,053 at American West Arena.
"They had a bigger heart than we did tonight," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "That's the bottom line. I've got to find out which five of the 12 guys are going to show up and play from the opening tip. We showed up like we really didn't have a chance to win this ballgame.
"This team has to realize what it wants to accomplish this year. If they want to be a mediocre team and say the season is over they have to let me know so I can play the young guys on the bench. If they want to say, 'Enough is enough,' we're going to win some ballgames."
The Wizards were without rookie guard Richard Hamilton, who suffered a sprained right pinkie finger in practice Wednesday and was placed on the injured list. He will miss at least five games. The Wizards activated Maryland rookie guard Laron Profit to replace Hamilton. Profit had been in the injured list since Nov. 18 with tendinitis in his left knee.
Suns forwards Clifford Robinson and Tom Gugliotta combined for 58 points--nine more than Washington's starting lineup--in leading the Suns to their 11th consecutive victory at home against Washington.
"They have a lot of talent on that team but you got to go out there and put the effort behind it," said Robinson, whose previous high game was 25. "I was surprised that we were able to get any shot that we wanted. We did a really good job of moving the ball around and we were able to pretty much run our offense without too much resistance.
"That was the biggest surprise because they have talented guys. We were able to play our game and if you let any team play their game, it's going to be hard to beat them."
Reggie Jordan filled in for Hamilton, scoring seven points. Suns guard Penny Hardaway (sore right arch) and starting center Luc Longley (back spasms) did not play. Phoenix improved to 13-6, and the Wizards fell to 5-16--the franchise's worst start since the 1966-67 season, when it opened 5-21 and finished 20-61.
"We didn't even put up a fight," Wizards guard Mitch Richmond said. "I thought we came in the right way but they did whatever they wanted."
The loss was the sixth in a row for Washington, which already has gone through a seven-game losing streak after winning its season opener. The Wizards face defending champion San Antonio Saturday night.
Washington has had several inauspicious starts however, in 1988-89--Wes Unseld's first full season as coach--Washington opened the season with just five victories in 20 games. It rallied to finish 40-42. It remains to be seen if this team, which has yet to fulfill its pledge to get better each game, has the resolve to make a similar run.
Washington forward Juwan Howard had a team-high 15 points but grabbed just one rebound. Richmond finished with 14 points. Backup forward Aaron Williams had 12 points and center Ike Austin added 11. Forward Rodney Rogers was the only other Suns player in double figures, with 10 points. Guards Jason Kidd and Todd Day had nine points each.
The Suns were able to build on their 13-point halftime lead in the third quarter to go up by 24 before finishing with an 83-66 lead heading into the final period.
Williams, who injured his right ankle in the second quarter, scored eight points in the third and Richmond had 10 points to get Washington as close as 78-62. The Suns' reserves played much of the period as the starter--particularly their starting forwards--did enough work in the first half to take an extended breather in the third quarter.
Robinson ended the second quarter with a circus shot that typified how hot the Suns were in the first half. When Robinson took possession of the ball on the right wing with four seconds left in the first half, he drove to the basket and flung up a left-handed jump hook. The awkward shot, like just about every other shot Phoenix took, swished through the net.
The basket gave the Suns a 53-37 halftime lead and improved Phoenix's shooting percentage to 61.1 percent. It also gave Robinson 20 points, a total matched by Gugliotta.
The forward tandem made 17 of 22 shots. Washington's starting forwards had just six points in the half, all by Howard.
It didn't take long for the Wizards to fall behind by double digits, as Phoenix ended the first period up 28-18. The Suns, who shot 71 percent, went up 20-10 with 3 minutes 30 seconds left in the period. Gugliotta scored 14 points in the period including 10 in a row during a 10-4 run to put Phoenix up 14-8.
Wizards Notes: Heard indicated that Hamilton, the Wizards' fifth-leading scorer, will miss 10 days. Hamilton was averaging 8.9 points and 19.3 minutes per game. In the Wizards' past two games against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, Hamilton did not score and played a combined 17 minutes.
His reduced playing time came as a result of Richmond's strong play of late. . . .
Forward Lorenzo Williams, who has spent the entire season on the injured list recovering from offseason knee surgery, was not brought on the four-game road trip because he was suffering from back spasms. . . . Former Washington guard Rex Chapman replaced Hardaway in the starting lineup and scored five points.
CAPTION: The Suns' Randy Livingson reaches for the ball after Rod Strickland (6 points, 6 assists) had knocked it away.