The same magical influence that the Wizards received from Nene's return three days earlier propelled them seemingly closer than ever to their first win of the season. But it wore off in a two-overtime, 108-106 defeat to Charlotte that instead took Washington to a new level of heartbreak.
The Wizards fought back from double-digit deficits twice. A miracle foul call gave them a chance to win in the first overtime, they had the lead in the second and three Bobcats players fouled out. But the franchise-worst start extended to 0-11, and Washington became the 12th team in NBA history to start a season with 11 straight losses, according to STATS, llc. At this point, the Wizards are battling far more than just the opposition at the other end of the court.
"There's no force [against Washington]," said Martell Webster, who had a team-high 21 points off the bench. "It's just us. And it's going to be just us to get us out of this. There's no excuses. There's no excuses to make. We just have to win. It gets a little repetitive. Just got to win. Flat out."
Before a half-full Verizon Center on Saturday, Webster had the first chance to put the Wizards in position for a victory when he stepped to the foul line with 17.1 seconds left in regulation and his team down, 92-91. Even after he missed his second attempt, Chris Singleton (13 points, 12 rebounds, four steals) corralled the rebound. But upon the offensive reset, Jordan Crawford (nine points on 4-for-15 shooting) turned down an open Nene (19 points) for an errant 3-pointer.
Playing in his second game since August and ignoring a prescribed playing time limit of 20 minutes that the Wizards staff had planned for him, Nene threw down a pair of dunks in the first overtime. In Washington's last two losses by a combined three points, the Wizards have scored 31 more points than the Hawks and Bobcats with Nene on the floor.
"Sometimes you need just take the momentum and go, man," Nene said. "I have no choice, I tried helping my team."
But Bradley Beal (13 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) missed his jumper to win later and then lost his own rebound out of bounds.
Still, Washington was handed a lifeline when Jeffrey Taylor fouled Singleton behind the arc with 0.4 seconds remaining and Charlotte up, 99-97. The second-year forward hit the first and third of three free throws, not good enough for a victory but enough to send the game to another extra period.
Down 104-103 with 38.9 seconds to play in the second overtime, the Wizards went one more time to the exhausted Nene, who by then had played 29 minutes. He lost his dribble, leading to a scramble for a loose ball, which again ended in Beal's hands. This time the rookie threw up an airball.
"[Nene] was gassed," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said, "and I tip my hat to him for trying."
Wittman also took blame for the Wizards' floundering in the first and third quarters. The Bobcats (7-5) used an 11-0 run to build a 25-12 advantage before 10 minutes had been played.
Nene got a warm reception from the half-empty arena when he entered with 3:08 left in the period, and the Wizards closed the quarter with a 12-0 run. Trapping Desagna Diop, Nene stole the ball then delivered a pinpoint behind-the-back pass to Emeka Okafor for the slam to cut the margin to 25-24.
He sent the Wizards into halftime with a 51-50 lead by contesting Byron Mullens' 3-point attempt at the buzzer. Mullens, who finished with 27 points including five 3-pointers, missed. But Charlotte surged back in front in the third quarter, taking a 64-53 lead on a pair of free throws from Kemba Walker.
"Obviously, it lies with me and I know it lies with me and I've got to figure a way to get this righted," Wittman said. "That's what my job is. And I'll take full responsibility for that. And I'll continue to work at trying to find a starting combination. People to play. That's my job. Obviously, I'm not pushing the right buttons or pulling the right strings right now. I'll continue to try to figure that out."
Washington did fight back once more, shifting into another gear immediately once Nene was on the floor, with Singleton immediately picking up a steal. Webster hit a 3-pointer to finish off a personal 8-2 run, and Singleton rose for a two-handed jam off a feed from the Brazilian, who then threw up a driving reverse layup. By the time the third quarter ended, the double-digit deficit was gone again and the teams were tied at 72. But from there the drama had only just begun.
"You can't get closer than we've been getting," Crawford said. "It's tough, but I think everybody should hold their head up high and keep fighting. This shows right now in a tough situation, shows who's a man or not, who can hold their up high and keep going."