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Wizards backslide into All-Star break

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Sports,Wizards,Craig Stouffer

It should be easy for the Wizards to rest and regroup during the All-Star break. After the way they played in Wednesday’s 115-107 loss to Sacramento, the message they’ll carry with them from the first half of season is simple: they’re still at square one.

After an unselfish, high-tempo first half that would’ve provided a smidgen of proof that Washington had begun to find itself and advance the franchise’s rebuilding under interim coach Randy Wittman, the unraveling and breakdowns were all too familiar after halftime: turnovers, missed defensive assignments, missed free throws and blinders worn by players ignorant of causes larger than their own. 

“Until our team is committed to playing winning basketball, until they’re committed to doing that, we’re going to be like this team was tonight,” Wittman said. “There wasn’t anything in that second half that was done to win the game.”

Instead, it was the Kings (11-22) who snapped  a six-game losing streak overall and a six-game losing streak at Verizon Center to the Wizards (7-26) with 22 points each from Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans.

Jordan Crawford’s season-high 32 points and John Wall falling one rebound short of a triple-double (21 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds) were both overshadowed as Washington lost its fourth game in a row. There were signs of trouble even before a 10-point third-quarter lead was squandered and 15-6 run put the game away in the fourth quarter, leaving the Wizards with the second-worst record in the NBA at the season’s midway point.

With his team up 71-64 just after halftime, JaVale McGee (nine points, 10 rebounds) committed the latest in a long line of incredible blunders. Steamed from having been denied two shots on a foul call early in the period, McGee waited for a floater in the lane from Francisco Garcia (12 points) to nearly complete its descent toward the rim before slapping it volleyball-style eight rows deep behind the Wizards bench.

Wittman was steamed more by Garcia’s easy penetration, not the first of McGee’s two goaltends in the quarter.

“What was he supposed to be doing?” Wittman said. “See, that’s the thing people don’t understand. It’s hard to explain, what his job in the pick and roll is, is not to let the guard get to the rim. Goaltend? That had nothing to do with it.”

Combining with Isaiah Thomas (18 points, six assists), who had 16 points and five assists in the second half, Thornton picked up all four of his rebounds on the offensive glass and hit a pair of 3-pointers during a 12-2 run that tied the game at 78. With 18 offensive rebounds to the Wizards’ 12, the Kings had a 64-38 advantage in points in the paint.

At the other end of the floor, Nick Young had as many points (17) as missed shots (6-for-23), including a failed 360 layup in the second quarter that didn’t hit the rim. “I did that in the past,” Young said. “If I make it, everybody’s on my side. If I miss it, then it’s a bad shot.”

But Wittman insisted the damage was far worse, singling out his guards’ failure to pass their way out of double teams.

“They need to introduce themselves to some of the bigs that they never throw the ball to,” Wittman said.”

In a game where defense had appeared to be optional, Wall got help from his former Kentucky teammate, Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins (16 points, 16 rebound), who shielded McGee and allowed him to get to the rim for the first two of 12 points in the opening quarter.

Crawford added 15 in the second period alone as the Wizards scored their most points in a half all season and took a 68-60 lead into the break. But after shooting 64 percent from the field in second quarter, the Wizards shot 36 percent in the second half, where they also committed 15 of their 20 turnovers.

Asked about the level of frustration in the locker room afterward, Wall could only guess.

“I hope it’s high,” he said. “You lost four games in a row so that’s tough… We want to go out with a win before the break because you don’t want to come back with a losing streak, but you take time off, everybody clear their minds. I hope they try to come back and finish the season off with a better season than what we did the first half.”

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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