The unfamiliar sights were in abundance as the Washington Wizards attempted to no longer be the NBA’s only winless team. But no amount of exuberance, extra effort and impassioned play could prevent them from an all-too-familiar result.
New York Knicks all-star forward Carmelo Anthony gave Wizards reserve Trevor Booker an elbow to the face, then knocked down a decisive three-point shot with 15.9 seconds remaining as the Wizards lost, 99-96, at Verizon Center.
The Wizards have lost seven straight games to open the season for the first time in franchise history, but made every effort to do the opposite. They built an early 16-point lead, lost it, fell behind by nine, but rallied back instead of rolling over.
“I hope everybody’s attitude is positive right now. We came in, we fought. We had a chance to win,” Andray Blatche said after scoring 15 points. “We played with a lot of heart, a lot of passion. As long as we have that effort every night, we should turn things around.”
Booker was a one-man wrecking ball, not slowed by the Knicks or the advertising boards along the baseline, knocking them all over with equal vigor. Blatche was strutting down the court, nodding his head as an approving crowd of nearly 17,000 fans applauded and cheered his hustle to track down a loose ball.
John Wall grinned — yes, he smiled — and preened after sprinting up the floor and tossing a no-look layup over his head that gave his team a one-point lead in the final minute.
“I feel we had fun. That’s one thing you haven’t seen from us,” said rookie forward Chris Singleton, who came off the bench to score a career-high 12 points and spent much of the night getting schooled by Anthony, who led all scorers with 37 points.
After an embarrassing blowout loss in Orlando two nights before, the Wizards held a players-only meeting to hash out some of the problems that have plagued them through the first six games — a lack of ball movement, undefined roles on offense and getting over what veteran Maurice Evans called “the sense of entitlement that’s here sometimes, I’ve never seen before.”
For one of the few times this season, the Wizards played for each other and didn’t sulk through a seemingly adverse situation. Wall missed two point-blank layups to start the game, but stayed aggressive all night, taking advantage of the Knicks’ inferior transition defense to go on several one-man fast breaks and finish with season-highs of 22 points and nine assists.
Nick Young led the team with 24 points, as the Wizards shot a season-high 48.2 percent and topped 90 points for just the second time this season. They jumped on the Knicks early, taking a 40-24 lead when Singleton threw down a dunk.
The Knicks closed out the half on a 22-7 run, with Anthony and Amare Stoudemire (23 points, 12 rebounds) combining to score all but two of the points. They eventually took a 66-57 lead in the third period when Anthony hit another jumper over Singleton.
“I feel he knew I was a rookie, so he came at me,” Singleton said. “I kind of expect it from everybody. You go at the rookie, go at the weak link, supposedly. I just tried to hold my own.”
Wizards Coach Flip Saunders eventually placed Booker (eight points, seven rebounds, two blocks) on Anthony and his aggressive defense helped the Wizards make a final push. Anthony still made a difficult running bank shot over Booker to push the Knicks ahead 95-87 with 3:37 left, but the Wizards scored the next seven points and were in position to take a lead when JaVale McGee (13 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks) sent a driving layup by Anthony in the opposite direction. Stoudemire tracked it down, but Blatche recovered the ball, then threw an outlet pass to McGee for what would’ve been a dunk, if Mike Bibby hadn’t fouled him.
McGee missed both free throws and Wall later missed a pull-up jumper, but the Wizards didn’t let it halt their enthusiasm. Wall made up for his error when he darted past Bibby for a reverse layup that gave the Wizards a 96-95 lead with 47.4 seconds remaining.
The first win was within their grasp, but Anthony whirled around a screen from Stoudemire, popped Booker in the face, then hit a three-pointer. Saunders drew up a final play for either Blatche or Young, but Blatche took a pass and kicked it back out to Wall at the three-point line, where Wall missed badly.
“We turned down a shot and ended up with a worse shot,” Saunders said.
Singleton grabbed the offensive rebound without recognizing the time and shot an air ball with seven seconds remaining. Young then missed a desperation three-pointer with time expiring.
“We played for each other tonight. You didn’t see that in the other games, and that’s one of the things we talked about,” Booker said. “I definitely think we got better. We actually hit them first, instead of them hitting us first. And usually the other team hits us first.”
But on Friday, Anthony and the Knicks hit last. And Booker had the bruise on his nose to prove it.