Only a few seats down from the Washington Wizards’ bench, owner Ted Leonsis sat courtside and was accompanied by Nationals owner Mark Lerner as his team hosted the San Antonio Spurs at Verizon Center.
Lerner has already built a franchise from the bottom up, invigorated a fan base and brought hope for a brighter future for baseball in the area. Leonsis’s plans of doing the same with his local basketball team appears to be stuck in neutral or headed in reverse, depending on your perspective, as the losses continue to mount and hope diminishes.
Stone-faced as he looked on until the bitter end, Leonsis witnessed a Spurs clinic in ball movement, precision and execution as his team fumbled and folded in its most lopsided loss of the season, 118-92. He trailed the players as they headed through the tunnel, walking off the court to a chorus of boos.
“We got beat by a team that I’d like someday for us to be able to play like,” Coach Randy Wittman said after the Wizards became the 12th team in NBA history to open a season with 12 consecutive losses.
The Wizards also joined the Memphis Grizzlies as the only team to open a season with 12 straight losses after losing eight in a row to start the previous season. They are a long way from resembling the Spurs, a perennial contender that has now defeated Washington 13 straight times, dating from 2005. San Antonio didn’t get much resistance after halftime and led by 29 points midway through the fourth quarter.
“That’s how the game was invented, to play and have fun. You can tell they are having fun,” rookie guard Bradley Beal said. “You see us, we’re down. We’re moping. We’re pouting. We’re not together as a unit and things need to change.”
This wasn’t supposed to be the season that the Wizards shattered franchise futility marks and struggled mightily just to claim one victory. But they had little chance to get their first win with John Wall still sidelined with a stress injury in his left knee and Nene back on the shelf after playing in the previous two games because of complications with his problematic left foot.
Wittman said Nene, who missed three months of action and is using his comeback to regain his conditioning, was too sore after logging 29 minutes in a double-overtime loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday and decided to let him rest. Shaun Livingston, who started the previous two games at point guard, also sat with a sore right shoulder.
“In this locker room, this is what we have. We can’t look to anywhere for help,” Martell Webster said after scoring 16 points. “Our all-around effort was not up to par. We have to be better. There is no excuses, nothing I can say. Guys continued to play hard, but overall, it was embarrassing.”
Jordan Crawford had a game-high 19 points and Kevin Seraphin added 18 but the Wizards couldn’t contend with a Spurs team that was too deep, battle-tested and talented to slip up against an inferior and mentally fatigued foe.
The Wizards lost their previous two games to Atlanta and Charlotte by a combined three points and both losses weren’t determined until after regulation. A box out or a few more tenths of seconds on the shot clock for Webster’s tip-in could’ve been the difference in Atlanta. A few more made free throws could’ve been the difference against Charlotte.
None of the Wizards’ previous 11 losses had been by more than 16 points but point guard A.J. Price said the team continues to compete for its coach. “He’s doing a great job in my opinion. It may not seem like it because we don’t have any wins to show for it, but . . . he’s coming in every day upbeat, positive. That’s all you can ask from him. We haven’t given up on him.”
They were simply overmatched against San Antonio (12-3), which has won four in a row overall. The Wizards had a little inside information on the Spurs, with new assistant Don Newman spending the previous seven years in San Antonio and winning two championships. But even the added support could not help slow down a machine that got 32 assists on 45 field goals and had seven players score in double figures.
Boris Diaw scored a team-high 16 and backup center Tiago Splitter contributed 15 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili played fewer than 24 minutes apiece, helping Gregg Popovich keep his all-stars to limited minutes after the team beat Toronto in double overtime the day before. The Spurs shot 13 of 23 from beyond the three-point line.
The Wizards are running out of excuses. Wittman is running out of lineup combinations. And fans at Verizon Center are running out of patience. When Ginobili faked Webster into the air and out of bounds, then made an uncontested hook shot, the Wizards heard more boos.
Wittman went with his fourth starting lineup, putting Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor and Price back in the first unit, along with Seraphin and Beal. The move actually paid some decent dividends early as Wizards led 32-29 when Webster made a 15-foot jumper with 10 minutes 43 seconds left in the second period. But the Spurs scored the next five points and never trailed again. After Price (11 points) hit back-to-back jumpers to bring the Wizards to 50-48, the Spurs closed the first half on a 10-0 run and received a standing ovation from a large section of the crowd.
“They carved us up pretty good,” Wittman said. “We kind of succumbed to it.”