Less than 24 hours after losing for the sixth time in seven gamesand for the sixth time in a row against Miami, the Washington Wizards boarded a plane for Detroit to embark on their first extended road trip of the season.
The five-game swing over 10 days comes on the heels of a 106-89 defeat on Friday night in which the Wizards pushed the Eastern Conference champions throughout the first 36 minutes but failed to pull ahead despite twice trimming the margin to one late in the third quarter.
So players and Coach Randy Wittman reinforced, as they have all season, a commitment to concentration and resolve from tip-off to final whistle. To this point in the season, the Wizards have assembled mostly incomplete performances, and those lapses have yielded five wins in 27 games, including a 3-7 record since Wittman took over for fired Flip Saunders on Jan. 24.
“That’s the tale of our season thus far,” reserve swingman Maurice Evans said in the locker room after playing 13 minutes 42 seconds with five points against the Heat. “We’re in games. We’re out of games. But as long as we compete, we’re playing for the big picture.”
Washington’s effort on Friday underscored both the promise and pitfalls for a team whose roster is filled with youth and inexperience. JaVale McGee, for instance, scored a season-high 24 points and had 13 rebounds, but the starting center missed a dunk at the end of the third quarter and later lost the ball out of bounds when the Wizards were making a push to get back in it.
Starting point guard John Wall contributed 15 points and a game-high 10 assists, but his game-high seven turnovers played a role in the outcome despite long stretches where marquee players such as LeBron James appeared disengaged. Nick Young had 22 points for the Wizards, but his other contributions included just two rebounds and one assist in nearly 39 minutes.
“We’ve just got to keep building,” Wittman said when asked what he wanted to accomplish during this road trip. “We’ll see where we are mentally because we had grueling stretch at home with some good teams.”
The Wizards won’t have the services of injured forward Andray Blatche (strained left calf) for the duration of the trip, but they may get back Rashard Lewis. The veteran forward has missed the past three games with a sore left knee that flared up earlier this week.
Wittman said during before Friday’s game that Lewis was “close to being able to play again.” After joining the Wizards from Orlando last season, Lewis averaged 11.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in nearly 32 minutes during 32 games, 27 of which he started. His production has dipped to 8.5 points and four rebounds in 22 injury-plagued games this year.
Lewis has been in and out of the starting lineup this season, with rookie small forward Chris Singleton getting 11 starts. In the last three games with Lewis out, Singleton has combined for 10 points, including none on Friday. The ACC defensive player of the year last season, though, did help limit James to 18 points on 6-for-14 shooting.
Washington, meantime, had its own shooting woes to address after the game. The Wizards shot 38 percent, missed 17 of 21 three-pointers and went 17 for 28 from the free throw line. Washington missed 18 of 27 shots in the third quarter when Miami built a double-figure lead.
“We have to make shots as a team when we’re getting open shots,” said Wall, who shot 52.4 percent (32 for 61) during the Wizards’ four-game homestand.
The Wizards are ranked third to last in the NBA in field goal percentage (.420), 27th in three-point shooting (.295) and 25th in points per game (90).
Among the nine Wizards players who have started this season, only two, Trevor Booker and McGee, are making more than half their field goal attempts, and five are shooting less than 41 percent.
“We’ve got to try to take care of the road,” said Young, who missed 12 of 19 shots against the Heat. “We’re going back on the West Coast trip. There’s going to be some tough games and some games we should be able to pull out.”