John Wall untucked his jersey in disgust, angrily glaring at officials but too upset to voice his displeasure. Wall walked off the floor, believing Denver Nuggets guard Nate Robinson grabbed his forearm as he attempted a potential game-winning jumper and instead watched the ball squirt out of his hands.
“Same that was happening all game. I couldn’t get a call,” Wall said after the Washington Wizards’ 75-74 loss to the Nuggets. “Nate Robinson was grabbing my arm every time I went by him. I lost the ball. You lose a tough game that way.”
Replays appeared to confirm Wall’s complaint, but the Wizards’ loss was more about shoddy late-game execution than Robinson’s wily gamesmanship or a missed call at the end. Even with starters Nene and Martell Webster both out nursing injuries, a depleted roster down to just 11 healthy players and rookie Glen Rice Jr. forced to get important minutes late in his first career start, the Wizards were granted numerous opportunities to emerge victorious but repeatedly found a way to flub them.
The Wizards (9-11) let a 12-point second-half lead nearly evaporate before the start of the fourth quarter, went without a field goal for the final four minutes and didn’t even get a free throw for the final 2 minutes 31 seconds. The miscues were reminiscent of the previous overtime loss against the Milwaukee Bucks in which the Wizards went without a field goal for the entire extra frame. In the final nine minutes of their past two games, the Wizards have gone 0 for 12 from the field and gotten a total of five free throws.
“I don’t think we were mature enough to deliver that win,” center Marcin Gortat said. “We just made some inexperienced decisions. Just bad. Bad shots. Turnovers. And that’s how you lose the game. We’ve got to get better at that.”
Wall led all scorers with 20 points and eight assists, but he appeared tired in the closing minutes as he took some questionable shots and struggled to create opportunities for his teammates. Gortat had 16 points but was held to just four points in the final three quarters, and Trevor Ariza had just 14 points on 6-for-19 shooting. The Wizards’ depleted reserves contributed a paltry five points, while Robinson came off the bench to score 10 of his 16 points in the second half for the Nuggets (12-8), who were playing without Maryland native Ty Lawson and former Wizard JaVale McGee.
Wizards Coach Randy Wittman wanted his team to forget a disappointing overtime loss to the lowly Bucks from three nights before, but it was hard to move on with so many important pieces going down in the defeat. Nene aggravated a sore right Achilles' tendon, and Webster sprained his left ankle, forcing Wittman to trot out his seventh different starting lineup in 20 games.
“It was tough. Other people had to step up,” Trevor Booker said after starting in place of Nene and posting his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds to go along with two blocked shots. Rice finished with seven points, coming within four of his total in his first eight games. The Wizards are 0-4 this season and 7-32 overall without Nene.
With 30 seconds left against the Nuggets, the Wizards trailed by one and had a chance to go ahead, but Ariza thought Gortat was cutting to the basket, and his pass soared out of bounds as Gortat stood still. Both players assumed blame for the miscommunication, but the Wizards got the ball right back when Rice stepped in front of former Wizards guard Randy Foye to steal Andre Miller’s pass. Rice found Wall weaving inside, but Wall threw up a layup that hit all backboard. Reserve Garrett Temple grabbed the rebound but had his putback layup slapped out of bounds by Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler.
Then, after Wall found Ariza wide open in the same right corner where Chris Singleton had missed a potential game-winner in the previous game, Ariza’s shot whirled around the rim and into the hands of Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried.
“I thought I got a good look. I thought it was going to go in. Either way, I don’t think we should’ve put ourselves in that position,” Ariza said. “I feel like we gave one away.”
The Nuggets certainly tried to give it right back. Faried missed both free throws and Ariza secured the rebound, giving the Wizards one more chance with 4.3 seconds remaining, but Wall wasn’t able to attempt a shot.
“It was a tough game,” Wittman said after watching his team shoot just 36 percent from the field and fail to reach 80 points for the third time this season. “Our guys fought hard. I’m proud of them for their effort. It’s just one of those nights from an offensive standpoint we just couldn’t really establish anything that we did.”
The only positive the Wizards could take from the night was that an MRI exam on Monday revealed the stress injury in Bradley Beal’s right fibula was improving to the point that he has been cleared to increase basketball-related activities.
“It’s more fun when he’s on the court with you,” Wall said. “It’s exciting to see that and hear that, but it still takes time to see when he’ll get on the court.”
Veteran forward Al Harrington had a surgery Monday night in Vail, Colo., to clean out loose particles in his troublesome right knee. Richard Steadman performed the procedure. After resting for four weeks, Harrington will be evaluated again.