PHILADELPHIA — It would have been reasonable to believe the Washington Wizards had reached their lowest point Wednesday, when they lost by 20 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, the worst team in the Western Conference. On Friday night, the Wizards laid waste to such reason, plunging even further with an 89-81 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, a team constructed to lose with its sights set on the NBA draft lottery.
The loss, the Wizards’ sixth straight, earned Washington its longest losing streak in more than two seasons and was a full face plant into misery, code red for a team that just one month ago harbored title aspirations. It came on the heels of a team dinner Thursday. All 14 players dined together at a Brazilian steakhouse, which was captured in an Instagram post by Marcin Gortat with the caption “Team dinner….Staying together!”
The off-court camaraderie didn’t remedy their on-court ailments. A night later, they were dreadful in a loss to a team they dismantled by 35 points last month. The loss was the Wizards’ 11th in 13 games and 13th in their past 17 and could leave them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference depending on the Milwaukee Bucks’ fate against the Los Angeles Lakers late Friday night.
“I wouldn’t say rock bottom. It’s a tough stretch,” all-star guard John Wall said. “We’re still above .500, but the main thing is we got to get back to playing the right way. Until we do that, we’re going to keep losing games. The way we’ve been playing, you can lose to anybody in this league.”
Washington entered the night averaging a league-low 15 free throw attempts and shooting 23.3 percent from beyond the three-point line over its past five games. Without Bradley Beal (fibula), Paul Pierce (knee) and Kris Humphries (groin) available, the trend continued.
When the Wizards (33-26) last played in Philadelphia on March 1 of last year, Trevor Ariza, now a member of the Houston Rockets, made eight three-pointers and scored 40 points. On Friday, Washington made just 4 of its 17 three-point attempts (23.5 percent) and scored 39 second-half points.
The Wizards shot a paltry 32.3 percent from the floor and attempted 12 fewer free throws than Philadelphia. The 76ers were held to 35 percent shooting but outscored Washington by 28 points from the three-point arc and free throw line.
“We had some good shots, but we’re not making shots,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “[We’re] not playing with confidence right now. We’re short-cutting everything. To get out of this rut that you’re in, you can’t do that offensively. We have to execute offensively, and we took short cuts, which turned into bad shots. Until we execute, it’s going to stay like this.”
Wall suffered through his worst shooting performance of the season, finishing with a double-double (a team-high 21 points and 11 assists) but missing 19 of his 26 shots from the field, including two layups on consecutive possessions in the third quarter. He also committed four turnovers.
Otto Porter Jr., starting in place of Pierce, fell two points shy of his career high with 19 on 8-for-19 shooting. Ramon Sessions added 14 points off the bench, his most in a Wizards uniform. But the rest of the Wizards’ reserves were abysmal, combining to score 13 points on 4-for-21 shooting. Rasual Butler had nine points but shot 3 for 12 from the field, including 1 for 7 from beyond the arc.
Nerlens Noel paced Philadelphia with 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Jason Richardson matched the Wizards’ three-pointer total by himself.
The 76ers (13-45) pounced on Washington with the offensive precision the Wizards have been unable to muster consistently during their slump. They made their first five shots from the floor, including two three-pointers, and attacked the basket to forge a 13-4 lead three minutes into the contest.
Washington eventually displayed signs of an effective offense with Sessions, acquired last week to provide Wall with a steadier backup, as conductor. While not a legitimate three-point threat, Sessions has a knack for getting to the basket and earning trips to the free throw line.
He exhibited both abilities in the second quarter. The point guard sliced through the 76ers’ defense to score eight points in 3 minutes 27 seconds and propel Washington to a 36-33 lead.
The Wizards then reverted to the team that has staggered through the past few weeks. Washington scored two points over the final 4:40 of the half, and shot selection wasn’t the problem; the Wizards repeatedly generated quality looks at the basket against the 76ers’ porous defense. They missed eight of their final nine shots in the half, and seven of the misses were within 10 feet.
Washington’s offense woke up to start the third quarter, going on an 11-0 run to build a six-point lead, its largest of the contest. Then it went back into hibernation, mustering just eight points over the quarter’s final eight minutes. The 76ers capitalized and took a two-point lead into the fourth period, an advantage the free-falling Wizards, sinking and sinking and sinking, could not overcome.
“I’m never going to quit on my guys,” Wall said. “The main focus is just getting back on track. There’s 20-something games left. We got to get back to playing the right way, and that’s all I can say. I’m not making excuses for why we’re playing bad and why people are playing differently. We just got to play better.”