From the time John Wall made his season debut, the Washington Wizards had dominated foes at Verizon Center. But the wins had started to come so easily that they appeared ill-prepared for what to do Monday night when the Sacramento Kings forced them into a battle that came down to late-game execution and defensive stops.
The Wizards had spent most of the night abandoning the selfless style of play that allowed them to win five consecutive games at home. Coach Randy Wittman blamed his team’s “pickup-game mentality” for putting it in position to lose, 96-94, well before Kings guard Isaiah Thomas made the winning floater with one second remaining and Nene punctuated a turnover-filled second half with an errant pass to Kings guard Marcus Thornton as time expired.
“I think we fell victim a little bit of our success,” Wittman said after the Wizards (11-32) lost at home for the first time in six games — and to the Kings for the second time in less than two weeks.
Lacking much focus or urgency, the Wizards were careless with the ball in the second half, committing 12 turnovers compared to eight assists, and needed a small rally in the final minute to tie the game at 94 on Martell Webster’s hanging bank shot with 7.9 seconds remaining. But before the Wizards could get ready for overtime, they had to confront a problem that they couldn’t solve all night — Thomas — and they failed miserably.
Wittman, who had used some confusing substitution patterns most of the night, decided to go with Garrett Temple — who had played a total of four minutes in the previous six games — on Thomas for the final possession.
“We didn’t have anybody that could guard him. That was disappointing,” Wittman said of Thomas, who finished the game with 22 points and seven assists. “I wanted to try something different.”
Thomas chuckled as he explained that he knew he would attack Temple since he hadn’t played most of the night, let alone this month. “It was tough putting him in that situation,” Wall said of Temple.
The speedy lefty drove to his strong-hand side, slowed up, then hopped off one leg to hit a high-arcing shot with Temple contesting. “He’s elusive, very quick. His prayers were definitely answered on that shot. That was a rainbow,” Webster said of Thomas, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter. “But we can’t get into a situation where the outcome of the game is the last possession.”
Emeka Okafor had his 10th double-double, scoring a season-high 23 points with 15 rebounds. Wall had 19 points and six assists and Webster had 18 points as the Wizards stumbled in a seesaw game that featured 11 lead changes and 16 ties. Wittman said he was comfortable with his rotation over the past two weeks, but he mixed around his minutes on Monday, which seemed to disrupt his reserves with the exception of Kevin Seraphin, who scored 12 points. The other second-unit players combined to score just 12 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
Nene was having a difficult time making his moves and getting off his shots all night and committed a game-high six turnovers. With the Wizards trailing 91-90 after a ridiculous Thomas floater over three defenders, Nene backed down Kings reserve Chuck Hayes, dribbled left, then left his feet and dropped the ball right in the hands of Kings guard Tyreke Evans, who made two ensuing free throws.
“We feel like we gave them the game,” Wall said, echoing a sentiment the Wizards made after their previous loss to the Kings.
Of the losses the Wizards have incurred since Wall made his debut, their 95-94 defeat in Sacramento on Jan. 16 perhaps stung the most since they squandered a five-point lead in the final four minutes. Monday, in possibly their final game against Sacramento, which have been purchased by an ownership group looking to move the Kings to Seattle, the Wizards were set for revenge.
But Beal, who has been playing the past two weeks with a sore right wrist, was unable to duplicate his performance in Sacramento, where he scored a career-high 26 points and made six three-pointers. Beal claimed that he didn’t have any complications with his wrist, but he scored just six points in 24 minutes and Wittman sat him down the stretch.
“My wrist was fine,” Beal said. “That’s the only reason why I played. I truly feel that it’s fine. I will continue to get treatment, and do all that is necessary for me to stay on the court.”
With Nene struggling to get much going on the offensive end, Okafor stepped up and had his first game with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds since since Dec. 23, 2008, when he had 29 points and 18 rebounds against the Wizards as a member of the Charlotte Bobcats.
“I can’t ask him to do any more and I’m not going to,” Wittman said of Okafor. “He’s been great, stellar for us.”
But Wittman was upset about seeing his team regress from its success. “After the way we’ve been playing, I hope it does hurt us a little bit,” he said. “It stings.”