The Washington Wizards had all the built-in excuses for their 120-105 loss to the Toronto Raptors tonight before 17,582 at Air Canada Centre.
They did not arrive at their hotel until five hours before tip-off because of flight delays at Baltimore-Washington International Airport caused by inclement weather. Starters Mitch Richmond and Michael Smith did not play because of injuries.
But the manner in which the Wizards lost was a carbon copy of most of their defeats, leaving them to echo the same explanations as to why they lost their eighth straight road game.
"The game boils down to critical turnovers at the wrong time," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said.
After rallying to take a 62-61 lead early in the third quarter, Washington made just one field goal over the final 9 minutes 16 seconds of the period and committed seven turnovers, allowing the Raptors to build a 21-point lead entering the fourth quarter.
The Wizards' implosion was nearly identical to last Saturday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks, as well as many other meltdowns during this 13-30 season. The Raptors, meantime, were the latest team to ring up striking numbers against Washington.
They recorded a season-high 35 assists--forward Charles Oakley had a season-high eight--three players scored more than 20 points and they shot at least 50 percent in every quarter.
"It's typical of what's happened all year," said Wizards forward Tracy Murray, who had nine points in his first start of the season. "We have dry spells and that was just another one [in the third quarter]. The timing of when we have those dry spells is jacked up. Right when we get back in it, it's like the dry spell comes. I don't know what to say anymore."
Since Michael Jordan became part owner and president of basketball operations exactly a week ago, Washington has gone 1-3, with all three losses coming by at least 15 points. The Wizards have allowed at least 104 points in their last eight games, only one of which they won.
"Will he change morale?" forward Juwan Howard asked, referring to Jordan. "Yes. He can make positive things happen. It'll take time. It won't happen overnight."
There is hope, although the season appears to be fading as quickly as Washington's only second-half lead.
After Rod Strickland (15 points, 13 assists) scored on a driving layup to cap an 11-3 run and give the Wizards a 62-61 lead early in the third quarter, the Raptors called a timeout then responded with a crowd-stirring dunk and free throw by Vince Carter. Strickland's nine-foot jumper tied the score and also marked Washington's last field goal until Howard's layup with 2:28 left in the quarter brought Washington to 81-69.
The Raptors closed the quarter with a 9-0 run.
Rookie guard Richard Hamilton (15 points) committed three turnovers during the collapse, center Jahidi White committed two. Toronto scored 13 points off Washington's third-quarter miscues.
"It's disappointing because we played hard," Heard said. "It's hard to defend turnovers. I thought our defense was good until we started to turn it over. Offensively we played well. Defensively, we couldn't make the big stops."
Carter, who celebrated his 23rd birthday tonight with a 180-degree, double-pump dunk in the midst of a 15-1, third-quarter run, scored a game-high 26 points. Guard Doug Christie, who started at point guard, had 21 points. Swingman Tracy McGrady had 20 for the Raptors.
Howard, who started in place of Smith at power forward, had a team-high 22 points. White and forward Aaron Williams had 17 points each and combined for 17 rebounds.
Richmond, the Wizards' leading scorer, missed his fifth consecutive game because of a broken right rib. Heard said he doesn't expect Richmond back before next week. Smith (strained right elbow) is expected to be back for Saturday's home game with Cleveland. Howard bruised his right elbow in the third quarter but returned after spending a few minutes on the bench.
The disastrous outcome was the fitting punctuation for a long day, players said.
Washington, whose home game with the Knicks was canceled Tuesday because of inclement weather, did not arrive to its hotel in Toronto until nearly 2 p.m. because of delays at Baltimore-Washington Airport. Players and coaches were at the airport before 8 a.m. with intentions of leaving before 9.
Players and coaches went to an airport hotel and ate breakfast while they waited. All parties said their routines were disrupted--players usually arrive the night before games and shoot around in the morning--however they said they realized they had jobs to do.
"It reminds me of my days in the CBA," said reserve guard Reggie Jordan. "We would travel on game days, fly commercial. That's no excuse for anything, though."