MINNEAPOLIS — The last time Washington Wizards Coach Randy Wittman was at Target Center as a head coach, his Minnesota Timberwolves suffered a 23-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Two days after that, he was unemployed.
More than four years later, Wittman was back in the place where he worked in some capacity for nearly 13 seasons with a different team and a slightly different approach. In his third coaching stop, Wittman remains just as intense, but said he is much more patient.
That patience was put to the test on Wednesday during an 87-82 loss in which the Wizards opened with a lethargic effort defensively and closed by tossing away the basketball as if it was loose pocket change.
“Until we learn to value the ball, we’re going to have games like this,” Wittman said after watching the Wizards (19-40) commit 24 turnovers, which contributed to 30 points for the Timberwolves. “We just don’t value the basketball at all. It doesn’t hurt us to have a turnover. We just throw it all over. Almost half of their points were off our turnovers.”
Actually, almost a third of Minnesota’s points came after a Wizards miscue, but Wittman’s point was clear. After taking an eight-point lead with 9 minutes 29 seconds left, the Wizards coughed up the ball seven times and essentially gave away a game to a team that they beat by 13 points when the teams met on Jan. 25 at Verizon Center.
“In the end, we beat ourselves,” said swingman Martell Webster (11 points), who was also playing against his former team. “You can’t give the other team more ammunition. You take away half those turnovers, it’s a different outcome.”
Encouraged after scoring the final six points and leading the Wizards to a win over Philadelphia on Sunday, John Wall scored a game-high 19 points with seven assists but he also had six turnovers and two costly errors with his team trailing by one with 90 seconds remaining.
Nene missed a jumper, but after the Wizards recovered the rebound, Wall — a poor three-point shooter who had made just one of his 15 attempts entering the game — pulled up from long distance and missed badly. Center Emeka Okafor bailed him out when he chased down Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio and blocked his layup attempt.
But Rubio and reserve guard J.J. Barea trapped Wall, forcing him to spin and lose the ball, leading to a layup on the other end for Barea, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter. Then, with the Wizards down, 85-82, Wall nearly lost the ball again before Trevor Ariza recovered it, only to finish the play with an off-target three-pointer.
“I lost the game, really, when I took the three and we were down one,” Wall said , adding that the Wizards paid the price for their turnovers: “Twenty-four possessions without no shot attempts.”
Wall was feeling more confident from the perimeter after hitting two long jumpers in the final 93 seconds of the Wizards’ 90-84 win on Sunday over the 76ers. He opened the game by hitting his first five shots, all from beyond 18 feet, but he shot just 2 of 10 the rest of the way. He also had a difficult time keeping up with Rubio, who led the Timberwolves with 15 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and six steals — four came in the fourth quarter alone.
Minnesota’s Derrick Williams had a team-high 16 points, including two late free throws that proved to be the difference during a game-changing 18-6 fourth-quarter run. The Wizards remain the NBA’s worst road team and are now 5-23 away from Verizon Center. They will end this two-game road trip on Friday in Brooklyn.
“Every time we have those type of games, we step it up in the next game,” Nene said after scoring 12 points with eight rebounds. “I hope we can play more hard, play more smart and play more neat. Let’s see if we can play like a team next time.”
Nene played again with a T-shirt and padding protecting his sore right shoulder, but he appeared out of sorts on both ends of the floor and finished with a season-high seven turnovers. On one sequence in the third quarter, Nene got hit on his arm and fell to the ground, waiting to gather himself. He later made a spin move out of the paint and tried to find Okafor. But as he elevated to make his pass, Okafor had already cut to the basket for the offensive rebound and the ball soared out of bounds. In the fourth quarter, with his team trailing by four, Nene shot an air ball from the foul line.
“I tried to give it my best, sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want,” Nene said. “Another player in my position, they could sit down, but I’m here.”
The Wizards were without promising rookie Bradley Beal, who was forced to sit out after sustaining a sprained left ankle in the win over Philadelphia. Beal scored 16 points in the first meeting, with the Wizards prevailing 114-101. But they also had the since-traded Jordan Crawford, who came off the bench to lead the team with 19 points in that victory. Without Crawford and Beal, the Wizards’ bench was devoid of many offensive options and combined to score just 14 points.
With Beal forced to sit, Wittman gave Ariza his first start since he went down with a strained left calf in a win against Miami on Dec. 4. Ariza scored 10 points in the first quarter and finished with 16. Reserve Kevin Seraphin (eight points) gave the Wizards a 73-65 lead in the fourth quarter, but they got careless on their next three possessions. Seraphin set an illegal screen, then A.J. Price and Wall both threw the ball away, setting up scores on the other end.
“We got up eight and again, careless with the ball. Execution down the stretch was non-existent. Too much one-on-one instead of executing,” Wittman said. “We’re not going to beat anybody with the carelessness that we have with the ball.”