September 28, 2020

Washington Wizards Game Wrap 24: Slide Continues, as Wizards Show they are the Worst in the East

It was a dark night for the Washington Wizards, who were thoroughly dominated by the Detroit Pistons from start to finish in a 100-68 loss in Detroit Friday night.

Friday’s first half was most definitely the worst one of the year for the Wizards, who are currently in the midst of a now seven game slide. Heading into the holidays, the schedule set up perfectly for the Wizards to gain some momentum with a home-and-home series against the lowly Detroit Pistons. Their season low 34 points through two quarters though, showed just how painful the Wizards can be.

Now, before going any further the Wizards are without their three best players in Nene, John Wall and Bradley Beal, while also missing Trevor Ariza and AJ Price. Keeping that in mind though, the Pistons do not have a true star on their roster and the closest they come to having any true scoring power is from center Greg Monroe and guard Brandon Knight.

No one would be able to tell that after one, as the Pistons dropped 53 in the first half, despite only shooting 42 percent. It could have been much worse for Washington who continued to struggle to find any scoring outside of Jordan Crawford. The forward had 14 points in the first half of his return to his hometown.

Even shorthanded, the Wizards’ problems come from their own issues. Yes, they certainly miss Beal, Wall and Nene, but it does not excuse the awful shot choices and rushed possessions  It has plagued them all year, the poor execution of a basic game plan, but it was never more apparent than on Friday. The team consistently missed open looks, missed the rim and wasted promising possessions in the first half.

It was not any prettier in the second half as the Wizards started to aboslutely fall apart in the third quarter. A perfect example of why they had such a terrible game came after Crawford was called for a travel. The Pistons pushed the ball up the court and after a shot from Monroe, Kyle Singler grabbed an improbable rebound and kicked it to Tayshaun Prince who hit a three to make it 70-43.

Crawford was part of the reason for Washington coming of the rails. He was called for an offensive foul and a subsequent technical after he ran his mouth. This all came before, the travel he was called for too. While he was the main source of offense for the Wizards, he certainly did not do many other things to help them get back into the game.

The fourth quarter was much like the third, with Detroit controlling the play and scoring 23 to just 17 for the Wizards. Three Pistons would finish in double figures and Andre Drummond finished with a double double by scoring 11 and grabbing 14 boards. The two teams square off again tonight at the Verizon Center in Washington’s last matchup before Christmas.

Washington Wizards Game Wrap 22: Crawford, Beal put forth valiant efforts as Wizards fall to Atlanta, 100-95

Despite Jordan Crawford’s triple double, the Washington Wizards (3-19) lost in yet another nail-biter, this time to the Atlanta Hawks (15-7) in overtime by a score of 100-95.

Tuesday night’s game marked the third of four meetings between the two teams this season but, in spite of any familiarity factor, the Wizards failed to find the formula for shutting down Atlanta. As a result, the Hawks are a perfect 3-0 against the Wizards this season.

“I wake up every morning to make sure the sky is up there, that it’s not falling in on me,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said after the loss in regards to Washington’s 3-19 record. “Trust me, this has not been fun. We’re continuing to fight. We’re going to continue to try again.”

On the bright side, a large fraction of the 15,123 in attendance at the Verizon Center seemed to have fun, at least during portions of the night.

After all, Jordan Crawford tallied a season-high 27 points, as well as 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Bradley Beal earned another 17 points and five rebounds, and Earl Barron tacked on an additional 14 boards and four blocked shots for Washington. To add to that, the Wizards allowed Nene 24 minutes of playing time – four more minutes than the limit set for him due to his left foot injury.

However, the end result was an all-too-familiar tale for Wizards fans.

While the Wizards shot 52.9% from the field in the first quarter, they also allowed the Hawks to net 28 points.

Yet, things continued to click for Crawford, Beal and company. Trailing 35-34, Emeka Okafor – who otherwise had a sub-par night – bounced to Crawford, who then managed a picture-perfect layup to put the Wizards on top. Almost more importantly than the go-ahead shot itself was the obvious momentum change that occurred as the Wizards moved the ball quickly – and with much-needed precision – in the quarter.

Although the Wizards soon forfeited the lead, they kept it within six at the buzzer to end the half.

Trailing 52-46 in the third, Crawford continued to light up the court. He scrambled ahead of the Hawks’ defense in time to pitch it to Martell Webster for the alley oop to make it 52-48 Hawks. Then, Crawford returned the lead to Washington by tacking on eight more points via a jump shot and two stellar three-pointers.

All tied up at 58 points apiece, Beal drove for the net but, instead, found Josh Smith, who blocked the shot. Beal collided with Smith and hit the hardwood with such force, he remained on the floor for several moments before walking off the court to eventually head to the locker room. After the game, Beal noted that he had been administered a test for a concussion and passed, allowing him to return off the bench in the fourth quarter.

Immediately after the collision, however, Jeff Teague sank a three-pointer and then tore through the Wizards’ defense for a driving dunk before Smith added a layup of his own to give the Hawks a 65-58 cushion.

With the Wizards trailing just 74-73 in the fourth, Beal returned to the game, despite showing signs of pain on a few occasions as he pressed his hand to his back. His presence, nonetheless, was a welcomed sight as he and Crawford kept things close in the final minutes of regulation.

But, the Wizards had to battle to overcome missed opportunities. By the end of the night, the only player with a plus/minus on the positive side for the Wizards was Nene with +9, which meant the defense had to come up big – and for some time, it did. Offensively, the Wizards kept good movement on the ball, controlled the pace throughout much of the game and managed crucial chase-downs to maintain possession.

“The way we play, you would think – giving ourselves a fighting chance in all of these games – that [our 3-19] record should be flipped,” said Martell Webster after the game. “But, the reality is what it is. We got to continue to grind and continue to work together and fight for one another.”

And, fight they did.

With seven minutes left to go, Beal managed a steal off Josh Smith, but the Wizards struggled to find the net. However, they communicated well on the court and tossed to one another, tallying rebound after rebound until nearly a full minute later when Crawford finally found the net – from 26 feet away – to put the Wizards up 82-80.

If any one play killed hope for a Wizards’ win in regulation, however, it was Beal’s personal foul with just under five minutes left, which allowed Louis Williams to shoot – and sink – three free throws. Although the Wizards came back to tie it, the Hawks maintained momentum and, with 43 seconds left, Williams himself shot a picture-perfect three. Not 20 seconds later, Barron – of all people – tied it for the Wizards, and the Hawks failed to nail down a shot to end the game in regulation.

Unfortunately for Washington, the Wizards didn’t continue to carry the momentum of the game beyond the first 48 minutes. Beyond a free throw from Nene and a jumper by Barron in overtime, the Wizards trailed throughout the five extra minutes of playing time before falling to the Hawks, 100-95.

The Wizards will travel to Orlando, where they will face the Magic Wednesday at 7:00p.m.

Washington Wizards Game Wrap 18: Wizards Rally to Beat Hornets 77-70 for First Road Win

The Washington Wizards (3-15) got off to a downright ugly start Tuesday night against the New Orleans Hornets (5-15) in the Big Easy, but solid efforts by Jordan Crawford and Nene allowed the last-place team to rally back in time to write a 77-70 win in the books.

Tuesday’s contest marked the Wizards’ first road win of the season and, with A.J. Price and John Wall out, the victory represents a minor breakthrough in an otherwise dismal season thus far.

In the first quarter, Washington managed just 11 points – a season low for any quarter – and gave up twice as many to a team riding a three-game losing streak, which included back-to-back losses at home.

Trailing 16-9, Kevin Seraphin sunk a two point shot to bring the Wizards within five points, but on his next opportunity his hook shot missed the rim completely. Then, Darius Miller and Anthony Davis managed back-to-back blocks against Cartier Martin and Seraphin respectively, allowing the Wizards to lose the ball on their last five possessions in the quarter. The game marked Davis’s return to the Hornets after missing 11 games due to an ankle injury.

Things were slow to improve for the Wizards who trailed by no fewer than seven points until the final 10 seconds of the half. They even put forth their fair share of air balls – including one that Jan Vesely managed to lob on a free throw attempt.

Luckily enough for Washington, Bradley Beal came up big with a steal off Darius Miller, and drove coast-to-coast for a layup and-1 to trim the Hornets’ lead to 42-36.

The visit to the locker room seemed to pay off for Washington as the Wizards’ defense came to life in the third quarter. Nene, in particular, worked hard inside, stripping the Hornets of several opportunities to add padding to their lead.

Trailing 51-41, Beal sunk a 19-foot jumper and Martin blocked Al-Farouq Aminu in time to open up Chris Singleton for the layup to make it 51-45 Hornets. Singleton added a layup and Beal tacked on a jumper and-1 to make it 55-48 Hornets. Free throws by Nene and a jumper by Kevin Seraphin brought the Wizards back within three points with just over two minutes left in the quarter.

Crawford – who closed out the night with 26 points, six rebounds and four assists – did an excellent job working around the screen, but missed the net on a 25-footer. Nene stepped in, however, in time for the put-back before slamming one in to tie the game 56-56.

It was Crawford’s final efforts in the fourth quarter that sealed the deal for Washington. He tallied 12 points in the 12-minute span – one more point than the entire team managed in the first quarter. With his 18-foot jumper and back-to-back free throws, Crawford brought the Wizards to the final score of 77-70.

In addition to Crawford, Nene put forth a solid performance on the night and posted a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Beal tacked on another 15 points and seven rebounds for the Wizards, who will travel to Houston to take on the Rockets tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Washington Wizards Game Wrap 15: Wizards Hang on in Waning Moments to Down Miami Heat 105-101

It was another special night for Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center Tuesday, as the team shot well and hung tough with the defending World Champion Mimai Heat to win an improbable matchup 105-101.

Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman trotted out yet another altered starting lineup with a switch at the power forward position this time. Kevin Seraphin sat the beginning of the game in favor of Chris Singleton, who finished with nine points and nine rebounds. Singleton joined Trevor Ariza, who left with an injury, Emeka Okafor, Bradley Beal and A.J. Price to form the full starting-five at tip-off.

It was one of the first times this year Wittman may have found, to quote him, “the right strings to pull.” The lineup gave the Wizards an early lead and set the tone for the whole team. This new starting five also set up a balanced rotation of players who scored consistently throughout the game. Their strong start gave the Wizards early momentum and really seemed to help the team truly believe it could win.

“I said [before the game], we need to have a statement game, we haven’t had a statement game,” Wittman told the press following the win. “And I said what better opportunity to come and play in front of the fans we knew was going to be here and beat this team and they took it to heart.”

It was a high flying and high scoring first half with both the Wizards and Heat making big plays. Jordan Crawford led Washington in scoring in the first with 12 points, six of which came from three-point paradise at the top of the key. He would use his strong first to propel him to a complete game, where he led Wizards in scoring on the evening with 22. Meanwhile the Heat had two shooters in double-digits with Chris Bosh tallying 14 points, 20 total on the night, and Dwayne Wade pocketing 11 of his 24 total points in the first two quarters.

LeBron James was conspicuously absent for most of the first half until he had a huge dunk and layup to get the Heat within two down the stretch in the second quarter. Washington would score the next two buckets though to neutralize the threat and headed to the half up 60-54.

In the past Washington has fallen apart in the third quarter, but they were able to maintain their lead through the third and into the fourth. Strong play defensively mixed with some much needed scoring helped the Wizards keep James and Wade at an arms length, even if it was a short one. The Wizards were so balanced in their scoring in the third, every Wizard who saw the floor, with the exception of Nene and Shuan Livingston, scored at least two points.

Washington continued to sink huge shots from all over in the fourth quarter to maintain their lead. Martell Webster put the Wizards up four by hitting an important three-pointer with a little over five and a half minutes to go in the fourth. The bucket allowed Washington to keep Miami at bay and allow the Wizards to maintain their momentum.

“It was real big, it was a big shot, you know the Miami players were playing with a lot of confidence,” Crawford said of Webster’s three. “I dont want anybody else taking it but Martell, he is the best three-point shooter on the team.”

With less than half a minute left, the Heat got a stop at their end of the floor and got the ball in James’ hands for a three that would have given them the lead. He released from the high left side of the arc, but failed to knock down the shot. Miami was then forced to foul and sent Crawford to the line who hit one and missed one to give the Heat a shot at the tie with 10 seconds left. The Heat would never knot it up though and after a series of fouls and possessions, the Wizards finally closed the game out for their second win of the year.

The win, their second in three games, improves the Wizards to 2-13. It was a hard fought win for the Wizards who shot well and really kept up the scoring throughout all four quarters to outpace the Heat. Washington will look to make it two in a row, and three in their last for games, against the Atlanta Hawks on the road Friday.

Washington Wizards Wrap Game 13: Wizards end season long nightmare with win over Blazers

Who says 13 is not a lucky number? For the Washington Wizards, it is now their favorite number. The team finally pulled out their first win of year in game number 13 by hanging on for a hard fought 84-82 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Familiar writing was on the wall for the Wizards as time was winding down in the fourth. Up by as much as 15 in the quarter, Washington found themselves suddenly tied with Portland after the Wizards went ice cold from the field. With 2:27 left in the game, the Wizards even found themselves down one to a scrappy Portland team who lit up the field for much of the fourth quarter. Almost two minutes later, it was offseason acquisition Emeka Okafor shooting two free throws, hitting two and giving Washington a lead they would not relinquish.

After a dicey moment where the Trail Blazers very nearly scored on a last millisecond inbounds pass, Chris Singleton came down with the defensive rebound to seal the Wizards’ first victory of the season.

It was starting to look like Washington was going to really challenge the New Jersey, now Brooklyn, Nets for the record for worst start in NBA history. With the team staring 0-13 in the face and a tough recent stretch featuring the New York Knicks and Miami Heat in back-to-back games coming up, Wednesday’s game against the Trail Blazers was one of their last legitimate shots to get a win.

The game was tied at halftime with both teams putting down 43-points. Neither team shot well in the first half and really for the game. Portland only hit 35-percent of their shots and missed six free throws, while Washington shot 44-percent from the field, but only missed two from the line, which ended up being the difference.

Jordan Crawford was a force for the Wizards and was their main scoring threat, hitting seven buckets for 19 points and hit all four of his free throws. Pair his double-digit points with Trevor Ariza’s 14 and the Wizards suddenly had their go-to scorers for the evening. Of note was Kevin Seraphin who had another double-double with 10 points and 10 boards, but was ineffective late missing some easy buckets that could have really put the game away sooner.

Washington got a lot of support off the bench in its win, while Portland leaned heavily on its starters. With only four total points coming of the bench, it was Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard who lead the Trail Blazers in scoring with a combined 40 points. Like Seraphin, J.J. Hickson also had a double-double with 15 points and 19 boards, 10 of them on the defensive side of the ball.

Now sitting at 1-12, the Wizards can start to focus on getting healthy and getting a sense of flow on the court instead of just getting their fist win. John Wall did warmups before the game with a knee brace and looks closer to coming back, but is not quite ready yet. In terms of finding their flow, it might be hard with their next two games against two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference in the Knicks and Heat.

For now though, Washington can celebrate, as their season long slump is over, history will not be made and the Wizards finally pulled out a win.

Washington Wizards Wrap Game 12: Wiz steamrolled by Spurs for 12th straight loss to start season

For the first 15 minutes of Monday night’s game, the Washington Wizards hung with the San Antonio Spurs. They closed the first quarter trailing by just four to a team that has started the season 11-3. That’s where the moral victory in this contest ended though, as the Spurs dominated play the rest of the way out, sending the Wizards to their 12th straight loss to open the season, 118-92, before an announced 13,879 at Verizon Center.

Many of those actually in attendance streamed out of the arena well before the final horn sounded.

The Wizards lost their previous two games in overtime, with veteran Nene leading the charge in both. But the oft-injured big man sat this one out with a sore left foot. With Nene out of the lineup, the Wizards looked lost most of the affair.

The Spurs had seven players reach double-figures in points, including Tony Parker’s 15 and Tim Duncan’s 14. Backup forward Boris Diaw led the Spurs with 16 points off the bench. Tiago Splitter had 15 points and 12 rebounds in extensive playing time in the second half.

The Wizards were paced by Jordan Crawford’s 19 points off the bench (on 9-of-16 shooting). Kevin Seraphin chipped in with 18 points, but veterans Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza — both of whom started for head coach Randy Wittman — combined for nine points and seven rebounds in the contest. As a team, the Wizards shot 41.1 percent from the floor and 28.6 percent from behind the three-point line.

Rookie Bradley Beal had a rough night, scoring 11 points but shooting just 4-for-13 from the floor. he missed his only three-point attempt.

The Wizards are the 12th team in NBA history to start the season 0-12 and are six losses away from equaling the New Jersey Nets’ record of 0-18 at the start of the ’09-’10 season.

The Spurs toyed with the Wizards much of the game, moving the ball around the perimeter until the ball eventually found its way into the hands on an open man for an uncontested shot. Their precision passing offensive game was a stark contrast to the Wizards, who seemed without a semblance of premeditated attack.

In addition to Nene, Trevor Booker missed his third straight game with a strained right knee. Shaun Livingston did not play either, but was in uniform and on the bench.

The Wizards next opportunity to erase the zero at the beginning of their record comes Wednesday night at Verizon Center against the Portland Trailblazers, who entered play Monday night 6-7.

Washington Wizards Game Wrap 7: After 107-101 Loss to Mavericks, Winless Wizards Stand Alone

The Washington Wizards (0-7) rallied in the fourth quarter in time to pull within three points of the Dallas Mavericks (5-4) with little more than 20 seconds left to play, but they failed to catch the team, which made a mockery of Washington’s defense in the first half.

As it turns out, misery doesn’t always love company. After the Detroit Pistons managed a win earlier Wednesday night, the Wizards were officially dealt the honor of being the last remaining winless team in the NBA. A loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday would mean Washington, at the very least, will tie last year’s 0-8 record to start the season.

It wasn’t all bad for the victory-starved Wizards. Jordan Crawford led the squad with 21 points – 17 of which were in the second half – and seven assists, but the Mavericks could have – and should have – run away with the win early on, had they not fallen apart for a large portion of the second half.

There was parity between the two teams at the start of the game. For every shot the Mavericks’ Chris Kaman tallied, A.J. Price or Bradley Beal had an answer, and when the clock ran out at the end of the first, the Wizards were down by only four points.

In the second quarter, however, things became downright embarrassing for the Wizards’ defense, which was virtually nonexistent. The Mavericks managed a whopping 40 points in the quarter, breaking their previous record of 37 for any quarter this season. And, while O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison did little to present the Wizards with opportunities, Washington, yet again, missed wide open shots and handed the Mavericks free throw opportunities, which hurt them in the long run.

The Wizards simply lacked the capacity to deliver with consistency – and it proved costly in their failure to regain a lead after entering the second half, trailing by 18.

That isn’t to say they didn’t put forth a rather uncharacteristically valiant effort.

As if things weren’t bad enough for the Wizards, who continue to count the days until John Wall and Nene return, Wall’s backup – A.J. Price – left the game just a minute into the third quarter after rolling his ankle.

But, the bad luck didn’t stop there.

After trailing by as many as 22 points in the third quarter, the Wizards went on a 15-0 tear, thanks in part to a pair of three-pointers from Jordan Crawford. Of all the Wizards to spark a full-blown rally, Cartier Martin stepped in with back-to-back shots from behind the arc to pull the Wizards within three of the Mavs. He had further help from Kevin Seraphin, who posted 14 points in the quarter.

The Martin-Seraphin duo kept it close for the Wizards and, with just over 20 seconds left of play, Washington trailed by only three after Martin sunk yet another three-pointer to make it 104-101 Mavericks.

However, it was Kaman’s night to emerge the hero of the game, which marked only his second start for the Mavericks.

Kaman found the net once more to make it 106-101 Mavericks, and drew a foul off Jan Vesely to add salt to Washington’s wounds with less than 10 seconds left.

Needless to say, despite having shot 48.1% from the field, the Wizards will return to Washington without a win to their name.

 

Washington Wizards fade late against Cavaliers, fall 98-89

The Washington Wizards on Saturday lost their second consecutive game in a row as they were defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Verizon Center, 98-89.

They were far more competitive in this game than they were on Friday night in their 38-point-loss against the New York Knicks. The Wizards did extinguish the stench of their trip to New York City as they managed to stay with the Cavaliers for most of the game; however, they faded in the fourth quarter.

Unlike the Knicks who are in the playoff hunt, the Cavaliers are a second division team – much like the Wizards – who are playing for pride.

The Wizards were mired by inconsistency once again, and they could never get seemingly could get a decent push going against their opponents. In addition, the Washington bench did not help much at all, only chipping in with 24 points.

After winning two games in the week against the Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic, they have been haunted by rough starts in the previous two. That fact has got the Wizards in a hole early and perhaps has stalled their upward momentum as of late.

“We got off to a rough start in that first quarter. We missed some easy shot. They shot 67 percent in the first half. We never had any control of the game. We were playing from behind the whole game,” expressed Wizards’ head interim coach Randy Wittman.

He added, “Our focus tonight coming out of timeouts wasn’t very good. We didn’t have a sense of urgency.”

The Wizards players still had the loss on Friday on their minds, and while they tried to use it as motivation, they could not find a way to defeat the Cavaliers.

“I think everyone was mad about last night’s game. We had another game to play, we came out to play, but we didn’t come out with any energy and they got what they wanted whenever they wanted.”

For the Wizards, John Wall bounced back from a poor night in New York and had 19 points and nine assists on Saturday. Jordan Crawford scored 18 points, Kevin Seraphin had 15, and James Singleton had 13 off the bench.

Jan Vesley had a strong night, as he had 11 points with 11 rebounds.

Cleveland’s Luke Harangody had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Anthony Parker had 15 points, and Tristan Thompson had 14.

The game was particularly competitive from the onset as both teams were deadlocked at 22 after the first quarter; however, the Cavaliers would gain a lot of momentum in the second quarter and take as much as an eight point lead before finishing up the first half up, 50-43.

At the start of the second half, the Wizards would rally and come back from a nine-point deficit in the third quarter. They would come within two of the lead, 73-71, at the end of the period.

Both teams were tied at 73 at the start of the final period; however, but Cleveland started to pull away as Luke Harangody hit a huge three-pointer with 11:11 left in the game. They would  rally and take the lead, plus extend it to as much as ten points, with a little less than five minutes left and not look back.

The Wizards were pretty much done as Cleveland took a 94-85 lead with 3:17 as Anthony Parker ended up at the free throw line, making both of his shots.

As the fans filed out of the Verizon Center, the Wizards see their record fall to 14-46, and know they have to finish a season which has been filled with a lot of disappointment.

Wall, in the locker room after the game, expressed what the Wizards have to do win. He knows that they have to will themselves to succeed in the final games of the season and turn the losing ride around.

“I know if you play the game of basketball you might be tired but you have to continue and finish the season out strong. I don’t know how a lot of guys are feeling right now or how they are, but I know the last two games all of us have been mad about losing.”

Jordan Crawford added, “You still have to come out and do your job. If you have bad days at work you still have to come out and put all your energy into it, so it’s no excuse.”

The Washington Wizards have another game on Monday as they will face a tough customer in the Chicago Bulls on the road.

Wizards blow 16 point third quarter lead, fall at home to Hawks 95-92

Since the trade deadline acquisition of Nene, the Washington Wizards have looked like a different team. Unfortunately one serious problem remains—consistency—and it reared its ugly head again Saturday night as the Wizards blew their second consecutive double digit lead at home in losing to the Atlanta Hawks.

A night after losing a 22 point lead and falling to the Indiana Pacers in the final seconds, the Wizards were at it again. Despite having control of the game for the better part of three quarters, the Hawks were able to hit some clutch shots down the stretch—none more clutch than Joe Johnson’s three pointer with under a minute ago that gave the Hawks their first lead since the opening minutes of the second quarter, 93-92.

The Wizards failed to capitalize on solid efforts from Nene (22 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks) and Jordan Crawford (20 points on 9-for-19 shooting) in the loss. Trevor Booker also hauled in 14 boards to go with his 8 points, but John Wall struggled, shooting 1-for-10 and tallying only 8 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals.

Josh Smith paced the Hawks with 20 points and nine rebounds, while Joe Johnson came through for them in the fourth to finish with 16 points and five rebounds.

While only one Washington starter (Crawford) had a negative plus/minus on the night, the majority of Atlanta’s starting unit was outscored when on the floor. The bench units, however, were the opposite—with only one of the Wizards sub registering a positive (Roger Mason), and only one of the Hawks reserves in the negative (Jason Collins).

A Crawford three pointer with under four minutes left in the third quarter made the score 71-55, giving the Wizards their largest lead of the night. But after the teams traded baskets the Hawks went on a 17-5 run over the next four minutes. Josh Smith’s jumper with just over three minutes remaining knotted the score at 90, and scoring was at a premium for the rest of the game.

Johnson’s jumper with 46 seconds left in the contest may have been the key shot in the game, giving the team their first lead in almost 35 game minutes, but there were several other important plays down the stretch. Immediately before, Trevor Booker was whistled for a loose ball foul that set up Johnson’s look off the inbound play.

“There’s a 50-50 ball between Booker and Josh Smith that we get called for a foul. Just blows my mind.” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “That foul’s not called in the first 30 seconds of the game, let alone the last minute. That’s what’s tough for those guys. I mean, it’s a 50-50 ball they’re both jumping for. Booker is called for a foul and Joe Johnson hits a three on the side out of bounds after that.”

Immediately after, the Wizards went 22 seconds into the shot clock before Crawford’s errant jumper, allowing the Hawks to run out the clock. The Wizards allowed them to waste nine seconds…before the Hawks called timeout. The Wizards wised up during the break and fouled Johnson on the inbound, his two free throws becoming the final margin.

The Wizards missed 2-for-1 opportunity was just another contributing factor in their collapse down the stretch.

Wall missed a three pointer as the cock wound down, capping a difficult night for the Wizards star guard. “Some of my shots were good, some were bad, but they just didn’t go in,” Wall said. “That’s kind of frustrating.”

It was the worst shooting night of his young NBA career, absent a 1-for-12 debacle against the Magic earlier this year.

The Hawks, coming off a late win Friday night in New Jersey, had a reason to run out of gas. But it was the Wizards who were unable to convert down the stretch, leaving them with another “what if?” in a season chock full of them.

While the Wizards are far from playoff contention, and every loss means additional ping pong balls in the NBA draft lottery, wins against a competitive team (Atlanta is currently holding the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs) can give a young squad confidence to build on.

The Wizards try to end their demoralizing two game losing streak in Boston tonight as they take on the Celtics.

Wizards Mid-Season Manifesto, Part One: The Trade Deadline

This two-part column chronicles staff writer Nathan Hamme’s obsession with building a better Washington Wizards team. It started as a mid-season recap, then became a second half preview. Then it morphed into trade deadline cheat sheet/NBA draft projection hybrid, and ultimately settled as a 4,000 word State of the Franchise diatribe. The second installation will follow Thursday.

At times this season the Washington Wizards have looked the part of the NBA’s “Most Dysfunctional Team”. Whether they are actually the league’s worst or merely one in the league’s bottom tenth is hardly of consequence and certainly not a comfort to fans.

The Wizards rebuilding project is now into its third season and so far the returns don’t look encouraging. Stacked up against some other currently rebuilding squads the Wizards appears to far lag behind—with Cleveland and Utah both playing playoff caliber basketball despite having undergone recent overhauls.

Unfortunately those two franchises are also particularly rosy comparisons for the moribund Wiz. Both had star players that contributed heavily to their rebuild when they left town. LeBron and Mo Williams left Cleveland with a score of valuable picks, while Utah also got great value for Deron Williams (a guy who Washington wanted in last year’ draft, Enes Kanter, and the number three pick from the ‘10 draft, Derrick Favors).

Meanwhile, Washington turned their competitive 2009 top seven of Haywood, Butler, Arenas, Jamison, Foye, Miller and Stevenson into Rashard Lewis, Trevor Booker, Hamady Ndiye and cap space. That’s it. Unless, of course, you consider the subsequent dismantling of the team (at the time 17-33) the cause of their ability to draft John Wall (9-23 to finish, winning fifth best odds in the draft lottery).

In this sense their situation has much more in common with the Rockets, who were forced to deal with Yao Ming’s abrupt retirement and a gaping hole in their roster, but even Houston was able to get Kevin Martin and Jordan Hill out of Tracy McGrady’s twilight. Regardless, the Rockets’ success provides an equally depressing comparison for Wizards fans.

So how does the organization look to dig itself out of this massive hole? From a team that was a playoff regular to a laughing stock and back? Here is a somewhat chronological, fully comprehensive look at fixing this Wizards team.

Let Wittman finish out the season, but start thinking about a long-term solution.

The Wizards play has improved post-Saunders. That much is certain. But is it a result of better chemistry in the locker room and a measure of calm on the court? Or is interim coach Randy Wittman trying some new—and successful—rotations in the team’s playbook? The answer is probably somewhere in between, and his attempt to instill accountability appears to have had some effect. But considering the team has primarily seemed comfortable pushing the ball up court to minimize half-court sets while creating turnovers on defense, it’s possible that everyone on the team just needed a fresh start.

If the Wizards haven’t shown additional strides at the end of the year does Wittman deserve to remain coach? He’s in a tough spot: it’s not just that he needs to have proven he can help develop this particular group of players, because he also needs to be the guy that will be able to attract players from other teams moving forward—and his head coaching record pre-Wizards is not seen as an asset.

Former coaches like Maurice Cheeks and Jeff Van Gundy have necessary name recognition, while assistants like Sam Cassell and Patrick Ewing are well regarded as former NBA stars. Is John Calipari worth considering? (Hint: the answer is “No”).

While someone in the Larry Brown mode would make sense for this team, it seems to me that Wittman has played an impressive “velvet hammer” thus far.

Unless a proven commodity appears on the market as Rick Adelman did last offseason (Stan Van Gundy?), the Wizards are just going to have to do their due diligence and make an educated decision based on who’s willing to undertake this daunting project.

One team’s trash is another team’s treasure

Every year there are teams who jettison contributing players for below market value. It can be an injury, a positional logjam, a fire sale (have the Hornets been sold yet?) or a straight salary dump (Nets?). Whatever the reason, good teams are unscrupulous in scooping their next bread winner off the trash heap (and apologies for the unsettling visual).

Michael Beasley is currently on the block, with Minnesota is looking for a late first round pick in return (the Lakers being one of several interested). The Wizards are desperately in need of scorers and long-range shooters, and could bring in the Frederick, MD native with zero long term risk. Beasley has a qualifying offer of $8.2MM next season which the team could easily afford if he performs, or if they aren’t in consideration for other available free agents.

Beasley is 23 but already in his fourth season, averaging nearly 20 points per game last year. His “character issues” stem largely from doing something many of the leagues players do, and his talent certainly justifies taking a test drive. After all, Josh Howard was on his best behavior in Washington just last year. The Wizards two second round picks might get a deal done, or they could opt to sacrifice one of their young forwards.

Even now, nearing the trade deadline, there are still free agents who warrant a look. Kyrylo Fesenko, a 25 year old, 7’1”, 280 pound Russian, has proven his chops as a defensive specialist with the Jazz these past four seasons. His offense needs a great deal of polish, but he can clog the lane with the best of them.

He’s fully recovered from a knee injury that kept him unsigned over the winter, and getting a foot in the door might allow the Wizards to add his bulk longer term as a defensive specialist. The Wizards front line lacks girth, and outside of Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker is more likely to be seen getting pushed off the block than posting up on it. Fesenko isn’t going to make them a playoff team, but the Wizards have to look to upgrade their personnel across the board—especially ones with a specific and useful skill-set.

And while Memphis has reportedly stopped shopping OJ Mayo, his previous availability suggests the Grizzlies are hesitant to offer him anything more than his $7.3MM qualifying offer for next season. If they decide to put the guard back on the market it would be a sizable upgrade for the Wizards at shooting guard—and someone they should consider into his restricted free agency.

A final possibility is to get involved in another team’s blockbuster trade by providing some key assets to make salaries work. The Rockets, Magic, Warriors, Bulls and Lakers and others look to be active in the coming days, and with various rules affecting the ability of teams to complete their deals the Wizards should look for any opportunity to get a pick or prospect.

Even more importantly, the team will need to bring in some veteran influences who demand respect and can show the younger guys how to make a living in this league—something more suited for the off-season, since quality veterans aren’t generally shipped to non-contenders.

Let’s face it: no one move is going to turn this team around, and these options are no exception. But until top free agents start believing they can win in a Wizards uniform, it’s going to mean building a roster bit by bit—effectively evaluating talent and accumulating assets in-season and out.

Trade Nick Young at the deadline.

Young is a decent starter and, at worst, a second string scorer in the NBA. He’s often given a hard time about his defense, but he’s actually turned into a respectable man defender and has the athleticism to be a force on the help-side as well. And, of course, he can score in bunches—including efficiently from the 3PT and FT lines.

Despite getting the go-ahead to chuck it these past two seasons Young hasn’t always had it easy in the Nation’s Capital. He languished behind Gilbert Arenas for years and is still pulled for long stretches of games to get Jordan Crawford minutes. The Wizards have been notorious losers these last three years, something that cannot be enticing for a young player looking for a long term deal.

The other variable, of course, is Crawford. He’s a considerably better passer and rebounder (despite being three inches shorter) and while he doesn’t have Young’s shooting ability he’ll continue to get burn because he’s younger (26 vs. 23) and on an affordable rookie deal.

Don’t get me wrong—I would love to retain Nick Young. But at what cost? Is he worth the contract the team afforded Andray Blatche? While there’s no evidence that anyone is willing to give him that kind of money, is he still expecting a deal that pays him $9 million a season?

Something tells me Nick hasn’t made up his mind to be here (maybe he’d feel more comfortable with one of his home town teams). I certainly don’t begrudge him the opportunity to find greener pastures. But is Arenas-esque personality, streaky performance, and poor body language don’t match the seriousness of this rebuild, making it hard to justify a massive commitment.

One thing is for certain: we should be using his current contract to our advantage. At one year, $3.7 million he’s not only a great value but a low risk proposition. Team’s looking to make a playoff run could be willing to part with a draft pick. A team looking to shed salary might sacrifice assets for a trade exception.

And remember, as long as it’s not a sign and trade the Wizards can offer him a contract that makes them comfortable in the offseason—and if I’m Nick Young why would I invoke my no trade clause? Don’t I relish the chance to showcase my skills in the playoffs and earn that big contract? And don’t the Wizards become a more appealing destination if they can get something out of it? It could be a rare win-win-win situation, but there is minimal benefit in having him play out the season in Washington.

Don’t re-sign Ernie, draft Kevin Pritchard.

Pritchard is currently on a one year deal with the Pacers as Director of Player Personnel, but when the Portland Trailblazers fired him in 2010 it raised eyebrows around the Association—and not solely because it came the day before the draft.

Pritchard may be known as the GM who took Greg Oden over Kevin Durant, but 80% of us would bear the same title had we been heading the Blazers draft team that year. More appropriately he should be known for identifying Nic Batum and Rudy Fernandez in the late first round, and being integrally involved in two of the most impressive fleecings in recent memory: getting Brandon Roy for Randy Foye and LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa.

The turmoil surrounding the Wizards was not entirely of Ernie Grunfeld’s making. He’s overseen numerous quality moves and constructed some playoff teams during his Wizards tenure. But while Grunfeld is respected around the league he’s not widely regarded as one of its best GMs, and if Washington is to become the “destination city” Ted Leonsis envisions it will need to embrace that new era—and that means a fresh start at the top.

Pritchard’s chops as a talent evaluator are exactly what the Wizards will need if they stick to their plan of building through the draft. His success in brokering deals via trade and free agency shows he deserves another chance at leading a front office. The Wizards can sit back and let Ernie’s contract run its course, but they would be wise to prepare for this one early.

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