One night after perhaps their most uninspired showing this season, the Washington Wizards at times offered considerably more life against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team also playing out the string and bound for the NBA draft lottery.
It was hardly enough, though, to prevent the Wizards from a second straight loss, 98-89, and a seventh in nine games on Saturday evening before an announced crowd of 17,200 at Verizon Center.
Point guard John Wall contributed game highs of 19 points and nine assists, shooting guard Jordan Crawford had 18 points and rookie forward Jan Vesely added 11 points and a game-high 11 rebounds in a personal turnaround from Friday against the New York Knicks.
Washington lost that game, 103-65, coming within one point of the lowest scoring total in franchise history. As it was, the Wizards incurred their most lopsided defeat of the season, and Vesely finished scoreless.
Although Washington (14-46) stayed within reach this time, it did not lead after late in the first quarter. The closest the Wizards came was tying it at 73 to start the fourth, but from there, Cleveland gained separation with a 14-4 flurry for a 93-83 lead with 4 minutes 24 seconds to play.
“We lost all ability to really grab any control of the game,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “We never had any control of the game. We were playing from behind or catch-up it felt like the whole game, even when we did grab the lead.”
The Cavaliers (20-38) shot 52 percent, went 27 for 33 from the foul line and had six players reach double figures, including all five starters. Rookie of the year front-runner Kyrie Irving was not among them, however: He sat out a seventh straight game with a sore shoulder.
Making the first start of his NBA career, forward Luke Harangody led Cleveland with 16 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double. Guard Anthony Parker had 15 points on 4-for-5 shooting, and center Tristan Thompson chipped in 14 points for the Cavaliers, who shot 21 more free throws than Washington.
Trailing 50-43 at halftime, the Wizards came storming back to tie thanks primarily to Wall, who began the third quarter by scoring three consecutive points on a free throw and a driving layup. Wall then assisted on Kevin Seraphin’s jumper to draw Washington to 50-48 before Cleveland called timeout.
Harangody made a jumper out of the stoppage, but Crawford scored on a putback and tied the game at 52 with a fast-break layup off an assist from Wall that ignited the crowd.
The enthusiasm in the building soon dissipated when Cleveland countered with an 11-2 run. Four Cavaliers scored in that push, which gave Cleveland a 63-54 lead with 4:34 left in the quarter.
Washington crept back again less than two minutes later, scoring seven in a row all courtesy of bench players. James Singleton made a jumper, Roger Mason Jr. sank a three-pointer, and Singleton connected on another jump shot that got the Wizards within 67-66. The reserves scored 13 of Washington’s 28 points in the third quarter after collecting no points in the first half.
“You hope you don’t let any of the effects of last night seep into this game,” said Mason, who missed 5 of 6 shots. “But we came out lethargic, which is disappointing. There’s nights where shots don’t fall, but the energy level has got to pick up.”
After the Cavaliers bumped the lead back to 71-66, Singleton made a three-pointer, and Vesely’s two-handed slam off an offensive rebound kept the margin at two heading into the fourth quarter.
The cycle of being forced to try to overcome deficits began early in the game. Though the Wizards were able to recover fully from a six-point deficit in the first quarter, they spent most of the next frame again trying to come back once the Cavaliers built a 27-22 lead.
A driving layup and jumper from Wall had the Wizards within 33-31, but consecutive baskets from Parker and Harangody pushed Cleveland’s lead back to eight.
The Cavaliers grew the lead to 47-39 when forward Alonzo Gee scored while getting fouled. The former Wizard made the ensuing free throw, and Cleveland had its most comfortable spread of the first half with just less than two minutes to go until intermission.
“Everyone was mad about how yesterday went, but before [Saturday’s] game we all said we have another game to play,” Wall said. “We came out and played, but we just didn’t come with any energy, and they just got whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.”