The reinforcement was there for the Washington Wizards on Saturday night, once again, in the form of Nene, who disregarded the limitations on his minutes, played despite a banged-up left heel and provided dazzling passes and bruising dunks.
The good fortune was finally there, with an inexplicable foul — and a favorable official review — resulting in Chris Singleton going to the foul line to shoot three free throws with his team down two and less than a second left in overtime. They shut down the Charlotte Bobcats’ leading scorer, got three other key players to foul out, and had multiple opportunities to capture a victory that has eluded them since the end of last season.
But the Wizards could never stay composed and suffered the same fate as they had in their previous 10 games.
After an excruciating, 108-106 double-overtime loss to the Bobcats on Saturday at Verizon Center, the Wizards are a franchise-worst 0-11 and have to wonder when they will finally experience the other side.
“As I tell the guys and they think sometimes I’m crazy, it’s hard to win a game,” Coach Randy Wittman said after his team went beyond regulation to lose for the second game in a row.
But unlike their disappointing loss three days before in Atlanta, when they ran off the floor thinking they had won before referees determined Martell Webster had released his shot after time expired, the Wizards couldn’t blame the loss on bad timing or a bad break. They had an opportunity to win in regulation, but Webster, who scored a team-high 21 points, missed a free throw with the game tied at 92 and Jordan Crawford looked off Nene to take an off-balance jumper as time expired.
In overtime, the Wizards trailed 99-97 when they squandered what amounted to a gift-wrapped win when Bobcats forward Byron Mullens (26 points) missed a free throw with 1.6 seconds left and guard Jeffery Taylor fouled Singleton as he attempted a potential game-winning three-pointer.
Singleton made the first free throw and missed the second. John Wall couldn’t find the strength to watch as he pressed his head against Kevin Seraphin’s back while standing on the sideline. Singleton made the third free throw to force the second overtime period but flashed an uncomfortable grin, because it wasn’t enough.
“We had a number of opportunities to seal the game,” Webster said. “All I can say to anything is, we all just want to win. We all just want to win.”
The Wizards have lost their 11 games by a combined 72 points, which makes the influence of Nene even more staggering. In his second game — and first at home — he scored 19 points, ignored his 20-minute playing-time limit and pushed himself to exhaustion in an effort to finally end the skid.
The 6-foot-11 Brazilian, dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, created opportunities for his teammates by drawing double teams and making underhand and over-the-head passes for layups. He even led a two-on-one fast break, dropping a no-look, behind-the-back pass to Emeka Okafor (11 points) for a dunk in the first quarter.
“He’s so great at what he does. He can shoot, score, pass. They triple-teamed at one time. I even told him, ‘You shouldn’t even be playing should you?’ He was like, ‘No.’ That just shows how he sacrifices for his team,” said Bradley Beal, who had his first career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
But Beal had his own squandered opportunity late in the first overtime. He missed a wide-open three-pointer, got his own rebound, then lost the ball to Bobcats guard Kemba Walker (12 points on 3-of-17 shooting), who saved possession by throwing the ball off the shoulder of Nene as he fell out of bounds with three seconds left.
The Wizards outscored the Bobcats by 22 points in the 29 minutes Nene was on the floor, with Charlotte making its biggest runs with him on the bench. In his two games, the Wizards have outscored their opponents by 31 points with Nene in the game but lost by a combined three points.
“I lost the count. I don’t know how many games we lost. I just know one thing: a couple games we were supposed to win,” Nene said. “There’s a lot of things I can, a lot of things I can’t control. I just can control my action, my game, my focus, and I leave my best out there, that’s what I can control.”
Singleton (13 points, 12 rebounds) made a free throw to give the Wizards a 103-101 with less than two minutes remaining, but Bobcats reserve and Virginia native Reggie Williams buried a three-pointer — his only field goal of the game — and Ramon Sessions and Walker added free throws as Charlotte (7-5) matched its win total from last season in just 12 games — the fastest turnaround in NBA history. They won with starters Ben Gordon (19 points), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Taylor all fouling out.
“It’s always going to be hard to win. I didn’t know it was going to be this difficult,” Beal said. “But it’s just some adversity that we’re going through.”
When asked if there was some force working against the Wizards, Webster shook his head, arms folded with his feet planted in a bucket of ice.
“There’s no force. It’s just us. And it’s going to be just us to get us out of this,” Webster said. “There’s no excuses. There’s no excuses to make. We just have to win. It gets a little repetitive. Just got to win. Flat out.”