OAKLAND, Calif. — There have been moments, though rare, when JaVale McGee has played as if he weren’t motivated simply by ending up on a highlight show with an incredible dunk or block but rather by using his superior size as a weapon to dominate. His athletic gifts are unquestioned, but he has struggled to maintain the focus or endurance to bring a sustained effort and be a force.
With the Washington Wizards running out of bodies, and needing scoring from wherever they could find it, McGee responded with career-high 28 points, matched a career high with 18 rebounds and added five blocked shots. He rolled off screens, fought through fatigue and provided the inside presence the coaching staff and his teammates have encouraged him to present all season.
“I always play better at home and I always play better in California,” McGee said. “I don’t know. It was the atmosphere and the weather.”
But McGee’s career-best performance -- combined with a season-high 23 points from Maurice Evans — couldn’t compensate for the absence of rookie Trevor Booker and later Nick Young, who aggravated a left knee injury in the first half and didn’t return during the Wizards’ 114-104 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
The Wizards (17-55) have now lost 10 in a row on the road and are five losses from tying the 1990-91 Sacramento Kings for the worst road record for a single season at 1-40. They will conclude their longest road trip of the season on Monday in Salt Lake City, where they will face the Utah Jazz.
Young will not play against the Jazz after planting his left leg awkwardly, in just his second game back from injury. He scored seven points in 13 minutes, starting in place of Booker, who injured his right foot on Friday in Denver. Booker attempted to work out before the game, but later revealed he had an inflamed tendon on the bottom of his foot. Coach Flip Saunders said was unsure about Booker’s timetable.
“I don’t know how long it’s going to be. Could be days, could be weeks, could be a month. It’s very tender,” Saunders said before the game.
Despite being short-handed, the Wizards remained competitive against a Warriors team that is indifferent to playing defense. They got within 94-93 when reserve Cartier Martin made two free throws with 7 minutes 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But the Warriors responded with a 14-3 run, getting six consecutive points from David Lee (33 points, 12 rebounds) and a corner three-pointer from Dorell Wright. Wright (19 points) added another three-pointer and Lee followed with a step-back jumper to put the game out of reach.
“We ran out of gas,” Saunders said. “Especially the pace here. But I can’t fault our guys’ effort. We gave an unbelievable effort considering who we had, so many young guys, and how we played. Our guys are playing their butts off. They’re playing hard. I’m happy that they are going out there and competing.”
John Wall had a rough shooting night, going just 5 for 16 from the floor, but still finished with 18 points and 12 assists. Yi Jianlian had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
But McGee found the perfect foe for a breakout game in the Warriors, a team that likes to play fast and small and offers little to no resistance inside. McGee announced his arrival in Oakland early on, when he climbed over Lee to rebound a Young miss and dunked with two hands. He had 22 points and 11 rebounds in the first half — setting a new career high in free three attempts (11) and makes (10) — and gave the Wizards a 67-64 lead at halftime when Wall drove inside and tossed a lob that McGee dunked with two hands.
“I was definitely trying to be aggressive off the jump and Coach drew me up a couple of plays, so I figured I might as well go hard as I can and try to get some points,” McGee said. “I just stayed by the rim and tried to get offensive rebounds.”
Jordan Crawford has played well since being inserted in the starting lineup, but he struggled mightily on both ends of the floor against the Warriors. He had the difficult challenge of trying to defend Warriors guard Monta Ellis, who seemed to perk up at the sight of a rookie in front of him.
Ellis attacked Crawford at will, attempted circus shots and distributed the ball to his teammates. Ellis finished with a game-high 37 points, a career-high 13 assists, 7 rebounds and had several highlight plays in 48 minutes. He made a spin move around Crawford before finishing with a left-handed layup and topped that basket in the third quarter when he made a reverse 360-degree layup around Evans.
“I was definitely shocked,” Evans said of the play. “If I had known he was going to do all that, I would’ve fouled him. He made a great athletic play. It was an incredible play.”
Crawford had 12 points, but missed 16 of his 21 attempts from the floor, appearing rattled as he forced some shots and had others rejected. “I pretty much blame this game on me. I played bad, he played good,” Crawford said about Ellis. “I’m just pretty much mad I didn’t show up like I could’ve. Even though he played so good, you just mad when you feel you’re just as good somebody. It hurts. If I could’ve got into a groove, I would’ve been doing the same thing. He made some tough shots. We was missing some easy ones.”