INDIANAPOLIS – John Wall signed autographs for a handful of fans dressed in Kentucky gear before the Washington Wizards took on the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Ever since he went No. 1 overall in 2010, Wall has always found the most support away from home in Indianapolis, where fans of his college exploits still come in droves – some in his Wildcats jersey – to cheer him on. Walking toward the locker room after a brief pregame workout, Wall smiled and nodded when reminded that he still gets love in this town – by some.
Early in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ 89-81 loss to the Pacers, a heckler near Washington’s bench shouted, “Hey, John Wall! You’ve got four wins! What do you have to say now?”
Wall refused to lift his head and acknowledge the man, clasping his hands in silence, as the heckles continued. Wall plans to come back some time this month from the stress injury in his left knee, but he could only look on, helplessly, as the Wizards continued their futility in Indiana in his absence.
The Wizards (4-26) have now lost 10 consecutive road games against the Pacers, dating from April 18, 2007. They are also winless in three games against Indiana this season and didn’t help their cause by falling behind by 17 points in the first quarter and playing uphill the rest of the night.
“It’s the same thing over and over,” said Coach Randy Wittman, who has lost four straight games as a head coach in his home town, including the past three with the Wizards. His last win in Indianapolis came on Dec. 15, 2000, when he was leading the Cleveland Cavaliers. “We always have a stretch that is just horrendous. It’s not a normal ebb and flow, where you might get outscored by six or eight, and start playing and make your adjustments. I mean, it’s 17, 18 points.”
Wittman thought that some familiarity against Indiana would benefit the Wizards, since his team had played the Pacers closely, losing by a combined 11 points in the first two games. But that comfort level merely meant that the Wizards would fall into some of the same bad habits that derailed them in previous outings.
Paul George scored a game-high 29 points and made consecutive three-pointers to give the Pacers a 24-7 lead less than seven minutes into the game.
“We didn’t come out with the right mind-set,” point guard Garrett Temple said. “They jumped on us. We knew it was going to be a physical game, but they came out, punched us in the mouth.”
The Wizards had to overcome a 26-7 deficit the last time the teams met on Nov. 19, when they lost 96-89 at Verizon Center. This season, the Wizards have trailed by double digits in the first quarter of 13 of their 30 games.
“It gets boring. Same old story,” said Jordan Crawford, who scored a team-high 20 points, matched Temple for the team lead with seven assists and heard constant jeers from fans who remember him spending one season playing college basketball at nearby Indiana before transferring to Xavier. “Got to use our energy to fight yourself out of the hole and the other team gets confidence, so it’s a double whammy. We’re just not playing the whole 48 minutes, that’s it.”
Wittman called his first timeout when the Wizards trailed 12-2, but tried to let his players make their own stand. After the Wizards lost their third consecutive game, Wittman said he might need to use a different strategy help his team avoid those rancid starts.
“I’d pay a lot for a couple of extra timeouts. I’m going to call [Commissioner David] Stern & see if I could buy some,” he said with a laugh.
The Wizards rallied to make the score 51-49 in the third quarter after rookie Bradley Beal drove right into George’s chest and made a difficult layup off the glass, but they trailed by 11 when Pacers forward David West made a jumper with 3 minutes 25 seconds remaining.
Beal then went on a one-man run, scoring eight points in less than a minute and making a three-pointer to bring the Wizards to 85-81 with 34.1 seconds left.
“I still thought we had a chance,” said Beal, who scored 14 points on the same day he was named Eastern Conference rookie of the month. “Time just got shorter and shorter after that.”
Kevin Seraphin had 16 points off the bench and Nene had 15 for the Wizards, who lost despite holding the Pacers to just 37.7 percent from the floor. Emeka Okafor had nine rebounds, snapping a string of five consecutive games with at least 10.
Wittman was upset about the free throw disparity during the game, complaining to the officials about missed calls. The Pacers attempted 31 free throws, compared to just 10 for the Wizards.
“Start on your heels like that, it’s going to snowball,” Wittman said. “It’s about not having a hole like we have at some point in the game. You’re going to have bad play. I understand that. The game is made up of that, ups and downs. It can’t be that drastic, night in and night out, and we seem to have that a lot.”