Things have gone from bad to worse for the Washington Wizards and the way things appear, worse is on track to get ugly.
A dismal second-half collapse, paired with tough defense by Chicago, resulted in the Wizards losing their second straight game to the Bulls, who doubled their season's win total against Washington in three nights.
The Wizards fell, 110-103, last night at MCI Center as 12,223 witnessed the Bulls (4-26) surpass the 100-point mark for the first time this season. On Wednesday, the Wizards set a franchise low for points with a 77-66 loss at United Center.
"You play a team that hasn't scored 100 points all year and they score 110," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "They haven't won on the road [and] they beat us at home. They kicked our butts on Wednesday and we didn't respond. . . . I'm really mystified at the way things are going. The minute you think we're starting to play good basketball we lose two games to the worst team in basketball.
"Now I don't know who's the worst team in basketball because they beat us twice."
Wednesday's loss snapped an 11-game losing streak for Chicago. Last night, Washington failed to respond to the humbling loss that made the Wizards the punch line of jokes.
The Wizards (11-22) allowed the Bulls to shoot 59.4 percent--63 percent in the decisive second half--the highest mark by a Wizards opponent this season. Chicago forward Toni Kukoc, in just his second game back from a 24-game hiatus because of back problems, had 33 points.
Rookie forward Elton Brand recorded his second double-double against Washington (16 points, 13 rebounds) and rookie guard Ron Artest added 19 points. Chicago was 7 of 15 from three-point range and 21 of 27 from the free throw line, including 11 of 11 in the fourth quarter.
Juwan Howard led the Wizards with 19 points, nine in the fourth quarter. Guard Mitch Richmond added 17. Both faltered from the foul line down the stretch, with Howard missing two free throws that could have narrowed the Wizards' deficit to four and Richmond missing a free throw that could have trimmed Chicago's lead to six with 1 minute 35 seconds remaining.
When the Wizards pulled to 96-90 and needed to make defensive stops to get back in the game, they allowed the Bulls--who rallied from an 11-point, third-quarter deficit--to go on a 7-4 run to put it out of reach.
During the spree, Kukoc took an inbounds pass directly under the basket and scored on a layup with one second left on the shot clock to make the score 101-90 with 2:47 left. Wizards assistant coach Butch Beard could be heard telling his players to deny the lane on the inbound play--a fundamental rule, according to some players and coaches.
"They have one second to go [on the shot clock] and they score a layup," Heard said. "We told them the only thing they can do is throw the ball under the basket. We're not focused. That's just one incident in the game."
Players say the coaching staff has them prepared. Heard said he and his assistants have tried every way they know how to motivate their players.
Heard's job appears to be secure and with the core of its roster under contracts that are difficult, if not impossible to trade, Washington is in a situation where it can either gather itself and reverse this skid or implode.
For now, nobody seems to have an answer, which is not the most comforting situation for a team that suddenly has stopped playing with any semblance of confidence or continuity. The Wizards now face a schedule far less forgiving--they face Milwaukee on the road tonight--than this past week.
"I don't think it can go any lower than this," said Wizards point guard Rod Strickland, who had seven points and 12 assists. "We've got to take the heat for this. This is terrible. We can't help but take the heat for this. This is not good."
Heard was asked why center Jahidi White played just four minutes in the second half against a team that was vulnerable inside. Heard said White did not seem comfortable playing against a triangle offense. "It probably is my fault why he did not play as much," Heard said.
Wizards vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Where: Bradley Center.
When: 9 p.m.
Records: Wizards 11-22, Bucks 18-15.
Injuries: Wizards G Laron Profit (tendinitis, left knee), F Lorenzo Williams (recovering from knee surgery) and C Calvin Booth (strained right hamstring) are on the injured list. Bucks Fs Rafer Alston (ankle) and Darvin Ham (foot) are on the injured list.