INDIANAPOLIS — John Wall rebounded his own miss, got fouled as he made a layup and an enthusiastic Coach Randy Wittman smiled and ran toward Shelvin Mack, who was seated on the Washington Wizards’ bench. Wittman lifted his hand and shouted, “You got to give me some on that!” He then commenced to walking down the row and slapping five with each of his players.
Wittman was feeling good being back in his home town on Thursday night, and even got a haircut to look nice for a dinner with his parents the night before. But as he walked off the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the smile had been replaced by a grimace. Instead of high-fives, Wittman placed his hand upon his brow after Wizards failed to execute in the closing minutes and suffered yet another close defeat, 93-89, to the Indiana Pacers.
The Wizards endured their eighth consecutive loss at Indiana, their longest current stretch of futility in any Eastern Conference arena. The Wizards (11-39) led by eight points in the third quarter and were tied with 4 minutes 52 seconds remaining but succumbed to a series of missed free throws, bad passes and poorer shots as they lost their fifth game in a row.
“They’re busting their tails and playing hard. We just have to break through the barrier,” Wittman said. “Everybody in there wants to win. I want to win. We’re fighting to win. We’re putting ourselves in position to win every game and come up short. You can’t let frustration get the best of you. You have to keep plugging away. We’re doing a lot of positive things and we’ve got to remember that part.”
Nene and Trevor Booker didn’t practice on Wednesday as they dealt with different ailments, but both players were in the starting lineup and provided the Wizards with their usual aggressive play inside. Nene had his third double-double in five games with the Wizards, scoring 16 points with 13 rebounds and helped the team hold its seventh consecutive opponent to fewer than 100 points — the team’s longest streak since December 2007. They also held the Pacers to 39.2 percent shooting.
The Wizards have been on a disappointing skid — including three meltdowns at home, where they blew double-digit leads in the second half and lost — which started a week before against the Pacers, who rallied from a 22-point deficit to win, 85-83.
Wall was put back in a similar position Thursday after Jordan Crawford (team-high 20 points) nailed a three-pointer that brought the Wizards within 87-85 with 2:03 remaining, and Nene was fouled while grabbing a rebound on the other end. Wittman designed a play for Nene to create space for Wall to get inside for a tying layup.
Wall drove around a screen from Nene, but he appeared to slip as Roy Hibbert, the Pacers’ center and former Georgetown star, cut off the lane. Wall tried to flip the ball back, but Nene had already cut to the basket and the ball rolled past half-court for a violation.
“I hesitated,” said Wall, who finished with 13 points and five turnovers. “Not really panicking, but I wanted to make the play real quick and made the careless play and through the pass late. It was a read situation and I read it wrong.”
Wittman showed Wall film of the sequence immediately after the game, advising him to slow down and not make the game more complicated. “You have to make simple, simple plays down the stretch. It might sound trivial and fundamental, but it has to be the easiest play you can make down the stretch and if it’s not, then you can’t take the chance,” Wittman said.
Wall fouled Danny Granger (25 points), who made both free throws to give the Pacers an 89-85 lead. Crawford answered by driving inside and getting fouled as he made a difficult runner off the glass. But he missed the free throw, the Wizards fouled Hibbert and Crawford pounded his fist on his head as he walked down the court. Hibbert then drained the decisive free throws.
“We have everything we need in this locker room. We just have to focus in more when we’re tired, fatigued. I had some costly turnovers there that really cost us and that’s the reason why we lost,” said Crawford, who had five turnovers, with two coming in the fourth quarter. “Every player in here is motivated still, because we right there. We’re not giving up. We need to keep it up, need to get good shots.”
Back with the Wizards for the first time in nearly a year after stints in China and the NBA Development League, Cartier Martin made two three-pointers and scored 10 points off the bench. He also stole the ball from Paul George and dunked to tie the score at 80. Martin was smarting, though, after the game because he missed his only two free throw attempts. The Wizards missed nine of their 25 attempts from the foul line.
“We are in a lot more games,” Wall said. “We got to do a better job of finding a way to close out these games. We are right there with these playoff teams. That’s showing we’re capable of playing.”
But not yet winning.