Jan Vesely grabbed a rebound, turned and saw Washington Wizards teammate Shelvin Mack standing nearby. Mack approached, but Vesely tossed the pass fast and high, giving Mack only enough time to deflect it out of bounds for a turnover.
Shortly thereafter in the Wizards’ 112-98 loss to Milwaukee on Monday night, Chris Singleton stole the ball from Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova and was out on a two-on-one fast break with Vesely. But instead of throwing a quick bounce pass ahead for a easy dunk, Singleton lobbed a soft bounce pass that hung in the air long enough for newly acquired Bucks guard Monta Ellis to track down the ball and steal it.
The simple became complicated and the difficult was even more challenging for the Wizards, as a rough schedule and steadily depleting roster finally converged to produce an ugly game that gave fans at Verizon Center added incentive to boo throughout and flood the exits well before the final buzzer sounded.
“Our legs looked heavy,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I didn’t think we had the bounce.”
With or without Nene, the Wizards (12-41) had played so hard, so feverishly on the defensive end since making the trade for the Brazilian big man nearly two weeks ago. They had held nine consecutive opponents below 100 points before welcoming the new-look Bucks into their arena. The efforts didn’t result in many wins — they were just 2-7 during the run of staunch defense — but Wittman and his players repeatedly stated that things would eventually break their way.
But with starters Nene and Trevor Booker both sidelined for the second game in a row with pulled left plantar fascias and against a Bucks team fighting for its playoff life, the Wizards simply had a breakdown. Their longest streak of holding opponents below triple digits in nearly 10 years came to an end, as the Wizards also allowed Milwaukee to punish them inside with 54 points in the paint. The Bucks shot 51.8 percent and also outrebounded the Wizards 48-35, converting 23 second-chance points.
“We know we’re undermanned, playing there with only a few healthy bigs. It’s not an excuse. [Milwaukee] just got to the loose balls and offensive rebounds. That was really the game,” Roger Mason Jr. said after scoring 11 points off the bench. “I think our bigs were a little winded. They were trying the best they could, but you have to give Milwaukee credit.”
Only nine players saw action for the Wizards, as Jordan Crawford scored a game-high 23 points and John Wall struggled to get going offensively, needed 13 shots to score 14 points as he repeatedly thrust his body at the basket and often came crashing down hard. Wittman collected a technical foul in the third quarter, when one of Wall’s mad dashes ended without a foul being called.
“I’m not going to say I got fouled, so I won’t get fined. I’m just trying to play basketball and attack the basket and do what I do,” Wall said. “The calls didn’t go my way. The shots didn’t go my way, so you’ve got to get ready for the next time.”
The Bucks (25-28) moved within two games of the New York Knicks for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and beat the Wizards for the third time this season. They still dominated inside even though starting center Drew Gooden sat out the first half with a sore back.
In a performance that resembled the lackluster defensive outings that necessitated the three-team trade deadline deal, the Wizards suffered their most lopsided home defeat since Ellis was last in building as a member of the Golden Warriors. Ellis scored 25 points in just three quarters when the Warriors won in a 20-point romp over the Wizards last month. He was dealt to the Bucks at the deadline and has helped his team go 6-4 since the deal. He had 17 points in just three quarters on Monday, but he was given the final period off after his back-court mate, Brandon Jennings, scored 17 of his team his team-high 19 points in the third quarter alone.
Jennings penetrated through the Wizards’ porous defense, finding his way inside for floaters, layups and bank shots as Wittman tried to find the right mix with a makeshift lineup.
“You get in this situation and you’re playing guys out of position and teach them on the go. It’s almost like you’ve made another trade and got new guys in. That’s a little disruptive and that’s the nature of this business,” said Wittman, who gave his team Tuesday off as it prepares for its second set of three games in a row. “Hopefully we’ll get those two guys [Booker and Nene] back, which would help. But if not, we got to play with what we’ve got.”
Kevin Seraphin scored 15 points and Vesely scored a career-high 14 points with seven rebounds, but Wall refused to focus on what the Wizards didn’t have against the Bucks. “You don’t have an excuse by saying everybody is injured,” Wall said. “You’ve got to play with what you’ve got. Guys have to step up, and we just didn’t play well tonight. They outplayed us.”