The Washington Wizards used their final game before the all-star break to show their home fans exactly why they rank near the bottom of the NBA standings, have sent one coach out the door and have his replacement wondering if he will ever be able to convince this misfit group how to shake several bad habits.
Among the lowlights from their 115-107 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night at Verizon Center: Nick Young driving baseline and deciding that the only way could get his shot to fall was to pirouette and attempt a reverse layup – which missed badly. John Wall was all alone on a fast break, moving so fast that he slipped, fell and knocked the ball out of bounds. JaVale McGee thought he had timed a shot by Kings reserve Francisco Garcia, but instead was called for goaltending as he volleyball-spiked the ball into the eighth row.
Finally, there was another second-half breakdown, spawned from one-on-one play, ill-advised alley-oop attempts and even poorer defensive rotations that resulted in the team’s fourth consecutive loss.
“Until our team is committed to playing winning basketball, until they’re committed to doing that, we’re going to be like this team was tonight,” an exasperated Coach Randy Wittman said after the Wizards (7-26) finished the first half of the season with the league’s second-worst record. “I know the term has been used, style over substance. We got a guy going in for a layup and does a reverse 360 and missed the whole thing. Crowd ‘ooohed’ and ‘aahed.’ We didn’t get any points out of it. Until we’re committed to making winning basketball plays, the whole game, it’s going to look like that.”
The Wizards appeared committed to playing the right way in the first half, as they scored a season-high 68 points by sharing the ball, taking and making quality shots. But they abandoned what worked to go with what never does and watched a 10-point third-quarter lead vanish before the start of the fourth. Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton combined to score 34 of their 40 points in the second half as the Kings (11-22) snapped a seven-game losing streak overall and a six-game losing streak in Washington.
Jordan Crawford scored a season-high 32 points and Wall nearly had a triple-double with 21 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. Wall fed Crawford in the left corner for a wide-open three-pointer to give the Wizards a 101-100 lead with 5 minutes 51 seconds left in the fourth quarter, but Thomas scored on a driving bank shot that triggered a 15-4 run over the next four minutes. Garcia drained a three-pointer that put the Kings ahead 115-105 and had the Wizards looking forward to their time off.
“They wanted the balls more than we did, whether it was loose balls, rebounds, they shared the basketball,” Roger Mason Jr. said of the Kings. “We have some bad habits as a team, and we’re trying to break them. When you have bad habits, sometimes you go back to those habits so the games that we’ve had success, we’ve shared the ball, we’ve played team defense, we’ve been a team. The games where we struggled are when we try to do it on our own.”
The Wizards were their own worst enemy, as they committed 20 turnovers, which led to 29 points for the Kings. Sacramento limited the Wizards to 13 field goals and forced 14 turnovers in the second half. The Wizards also missed 11 of their 27 free throw attempts, while the Kings were 25 of 27 from the line.
“We did give it away,” Wittman said.
McGee had nine points, 10 rebounds and one blocked shot, but he also was called for goaltending twice. Wittman benched McGee shortly after his first goaltend but explained that the reason “wasn’t a goaltend. What led to the goaltend? What was he supposed to be doing? See, that’s the thing people don’t understand. It’s hard to explain, what his job in the pick and roll is, is not to let the guard get to the rim. Goaltend? That had nothing to do with it.”
Young scored a career-high 43 points to lead the Wizards to a 136-133 overtime win over Sacramento last season at Verizon Center. He tried his best to duplicate that performance even if it came at the detriment of his team. Young finished with 17 points on Wednesday, but he missed 17 of his 23 field goal attempts — including that questionable, high-degree-of-difficulty layup.
“I did that in the past. If I make it, everybody’s on my side. If I miss it, then it’s a bad shot,” Young said. “I didn’t know I had that many shots. I was just trying to get things going for my teammates. They brought me here for that.”
Wall is the only Wizard who has been invited to participate in festivities during All-Star Weekend, as he will be in the Rising Star Challenge and the Skills Challenge. But he said he will take advantage of the time away from another abysmal season.
“Just relax my mind and relieve myself,” Wall said. “It’s tough. We want to go out with a win before the break because you don’t want to come back with a losing streak, but you take time off, everybody clear their minds. I hope they try to come back and finish the season off with a better season than what we did the first half.”