ORLANDO — Upset, arms folded, Coach Randy Wittman patrolled the sideline like someone at the bus stop who had been waiting all night for his ride to arrive as the Washington Wizards took on the Orlando Magic on Wednesday at Amway Arena.
Wittman looked up when forward Chris Singleton shot an uncontested jumper, then looked down with more disgust after it soared to the opposite side of the backboard. He repeated the routine when one of his players missed a defensive assignment or took a questionable shot. But he kept getting back up to take those bowlegged strides, hoping that something would eventually go right; that the bus, or rather, a victory, would come.
Wittman waited in vain, once again, as the Wizards lost, 90-83, to the surprising Magic. He watched his team repeat its nearly nightly routine of falling into a hole, rallying to make the game close late — despite the absence of one of its best players — before extending the worst start in franchise history.
“I’m looking for solutions,” Wittman said after the Wizards lost their fifth game in a row. “We’re trying.”
The Wizards (3-20)are running out of reasons for optimism, with losses mounting along with a steadily increasing collection of battered and bruised players. Rookie Bradley Beal became the latest casualty to this cruel season when he was forced to sit out against the Magic with a sore lower back.
Beal, the Wizards’ second-leading scorer, suffered the injury during the Wizards’ 100-95 overtime loss to Atlanta the night before, when Hawks forward Josh Smith blocked Beal’s dunk attempt, and the guard landed awkwardly on a fall.
Beal, who starred in college at Florida, not far away in Gainesville, woke up sore and tried to test out his back before Wednesday’s game but quickly ruled himself out after being unable to move without a noticeable hitch. His absence left an anemic offense with few options and several stretches of poor ball movement and scoring lulls.
“It’s crazy. A lot of things going on right now and we can’t look for answers. We have to take the battle, have the courage to compete and fight. You can’t be scared,” Nene said after scoring a season-high 20 points in 25 minutes off the bench. “I hope we remember this moment right here, when we’re losing, because, our mistake. Because we don’t compete hard. We don’t do what the coach ask us. And we don’t play together enough.”
Wittman was furious over the Wizards’ performance what he called a “ridiculous” third quarter, when they scored just 13 points, missed 11 of 16 shots, committed six of their 13 turnovers and allowed the Magic to build a 13-point lead entering the final period.
“It’s just more of execution than anything else,” Wittman said. “We don’t have that guy you’re going to just give the ball to and say, ‘Carry the load for us.’ Sometimes when you watch us play, I think it looks like we think we have that guy, if that makes any sense.”
Jordan Crawford had a 19 points, six assists and seven turnovers one night after recording his second career triple-double and becoming the first player in Wizards history to finish a game with at least 27 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds while only committing one turnover.
Shaun Livingston replaced Beal as Wittman went with his eighth starting lineup in 23 games. Wittman had already planned on making a change before Beal went down, giving seldom-used reserve Earl Barron his first start of the season at power forward over Singleton.
Twelve players have been introduced among the Wizards’ first five this season, but none have been Nene or John Wall, who watched the game from the bench in a sport coat. Wall remains out indefinitely, but the Wizards have other concerns as it relates to their other recent lottery pick.
Down to just 10 healthy players, Wittman still had no use for second-year forward Jan Vesely, who has only appeared two of the past nine games. Vesely, the sixth overall pick in 2011, was battling a cold and his teammates jokingly avoided him before the game. But he was available and he camped out in the last seat on the bench, next to Beal, for most of the game.
“Right now, there are not enough minutes” for Vesely, Wittman said.
The Magic has taken on a new identity after trading former franchise cornerstone Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer. But with a rookie head coach in Jacque Vaughn and a few relative unknowns, Orlando (12-13) actually has a better record than Howard’s Lakers.
The Wizards got within 87-83 when Nene made a layup with 2 minutes 53 seconds remaining, but were unable to edge closer after Crawford made an ill-advised outlet pass that was out of Nene’s reach and led to a turnover. Then Emeka Okafor missed a layup near the basket and Arron Afflalo (15 points) made a short baseline jumper to end the run.
After Tuesday’s overtime loss, swingman Martell Webster marveled at the tenacity of his teammates, who rarely fold while facing double-digit deficits. They are now 3-13 in games decided by seven points or less this season but Webster suggested that the record should actually be “flipped.”
“I mean, it hurts, but the moral of that story is you can’t give up,” said Webster, who scored 11 points against Orlando. “I’m not going to give up. That’s all I can say.”