John Wall quickly scrambled to the baseline, jumped and grabbed the ball with his left hand, saving it just before it went out of bounds. Spotting Nene in the corner of his eye, Wall slung the ball backward between his legs, but the pass was slightly out of Nene’s reach. The ball instead rolled to Sacramento Kings reserve Quincy Acy, who fed teammate Derrick Williams for an uncontested dunk. The Washington Wizards had watched a 17-point lead get chopped to four with more than seven minutes left to play.
For a team that had lost its previous two games because of some inopportune lapses, the Wizards again were in a tenuous spot. But Washington had an opponent that was too sloppy to take advantage of its slippage and managed to pull out a 93-84 victory at Verizon Center.
“Happy with the win but won’t accept the way we played,” Martell Webster said. “I don’t think we played a great game. That’s a team, we should’ve won by 30 points. No offense, but they’re just going through a lot of stuff over there; the team is not connected. To let them get back into the game, you can’t allow that to happen.”
After a disappointing loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday dropped them below .500 for the 12th time this season, the Wizards were upset and Coach Randy Wittman was wondering what more he needed to do to get his team prepared for an opponent that isn’t high up in the league standings. The Kings arrived at Verizon Center with the second-worst record in the Western Conference.
But while Washington has had its struggles at home against inferior opponents, those concerns only seem to apply to the Eastern Conference. They are now 3-0 at home against losing teams from the West after claiming earlier wins against Minnesota and the Los Angeles Lakers.
In their final home game before the all-star break, the Wizards (25-25) wanted at least to come away with a winning record on a homestand that began with such promise after wins over Oklahoma City and Portland but hit a rough patch with losses to San Antonio and the Cavaliers.
With the win, the Wizards snapped a three-game losing streak to the Kings, who had won the previous two meetings at Verizon Center. Washington also drew even at home (13-13), with its final two games before the break coming up at Memphis and Houston.
“Any win is a good. Every win is a good win no matter who you’re playing against,” Trevor Ariza said. “Any night any team can be beaten. It was a good win even though we struggled. Hopefully that makes up for the two that we lost here.”
Kentucky Coach John Calipari was in attendance to watch his former pupils, Wall and DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings. But Wall didn’t have his usual dynamic performance and looked winded trying to keep up with speedy Kings guard Isaiah Thomas, who historically has given him problems. Content with taking a back seat, Wall didn’t have any assists in the first half and only handed out four in the second half while finishing with just 12 points. Wall also had a game-high five turnovers.
After the game, Calipari stopped by the locker room to finalize dinner plans with Wall and walked out saying, “Bring your check book . . . or credit card or cash.”
Nene scored a team-high 18 points, helping Wall get his first assist of the night when he cut to the basket and made an off-balanced layup while getting fouled. Nene and Bradley Beal led the Wizards with five assists apiece.
Beal had some poor shooting performances on the five-game homestand, but he found his stroke in the finale, connecting on 6 of 10 shots and finishing with 16 points. Beal will be a contestant in the three-point shootout during all-star week and spent some time after practice working on his form while shooting from a rack. The extra work was helpful against the Kings as Beal shot 4 for 5 from long distance, including two huge three-pointers to push the lead back up to double digits in the fourth quarter as his former AAU teammate, rookie Ben McLemore, left him open.
“I told him not to help. He didn’t listen, and I guess he got burned on that,” Beal said with a grin.
The Kings entered averaging 101.5 points, but the Wizards stepped up on the defensive end by limiting them to just 35.4 percent shooting from the floor. Washington also forced the Kings into 18 turnovers, which led to 26 points.
Thomas scored a game-high 30 points, but the Wizards did a solid job of keeping the Kings’ two other 20-point scorers in check. Cousins and Rudy Gay were limited to a combined 19 points on 5-for-27 shooting.
“We did our job,” Nene said.
The Wizards went ahead 73-56 when Gortat got the ball on the left side of the basket, spun to his right and made a layup over Acy. But the Kings went on a 14-2 run to get within 75-70 after Webster dove into the front row to save the loose ball, but Gortat had it stolen by Thomas, setting up two free throws. The bad luck after hustle plays continued with Wall’s errant pass to Nene, but the two were able to laugh about it afterward.
Nene shook his head and explained that the ball “bounced too low, man.”
“I thought he was going to catch it,” Wall said with a shrug. “But I don’t know. He said it’s my fault, but everything is my fault when it comes to him. I’ll take the blame.”