The motivation that spurred the Wizards to make a run from the bottom of the NBA standings to just outside a playoff spot is gone.
Fading hopes of a last ditch push for ninth place in the Eastern Conference were erased in their final home game of the season, a 96-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers for their fourth straight defeat.
"Any time you don't reach your goal it's disappointing," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "We gave it a shot. That's what we tried to do to keep our focus on moving forward here at the end."
A strong first quarter had given the Wizards (29-51) hope that 30 wins were also finally within reach. With Cartier Martin starting for the first time all season while Martell Webster joined Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal on the injury list, they opened with eight assists on their first eight baskets. John Wall (game-high 24 points, seven assists) made six of his first seven shots, shaking free from Jrue Holiday (22 points, seven assists) with a jab step, crossover, spin combination into a falling layup for a 31-24 lead at the end of the period.
Trevor Booker (10 points) lifted the struggling second unit with a personal 6-0 run on three straight buckets for a 41-28 advantage in the second quarter, the biggest of the game. Evan Turner, the infamous second pick just after Wall in the 2010 NBA draft, was 0-for-11, and former Wizard Nick Young was 0-for-3 in his first game in Washington since being traded in Mar. 2012.
But things began to unravel late in the second quarter. Damien Wilkins (15 points) and Justin Holiday (seven points) each hit 3-pointers to pull the 76ers (32-47) within one by halftime. Jrue Holiday and Spencer Hawes (15 points, eight rebounds) carved up the Wizards defense in the third quarter during a 12-0 run that gave the visitors the lead.
"We started off well, moving the ball, and in the second half, I think it was our defense," Booker said. "They got some easy buckets, and it's like we gave up."
A glorified pickup game ensued by the final period, and Sixers players were first to every loose ball. Sandwiched by Booker, Garrett Temple, Chris Singleton and Kevin Seraphin, Hawes emerged with an offensive rebound and converted an easy putback for an 80-71 lead. He then flattened A.J. Price's layup, leading to a wide open slam by Dorell Wright (13 points). A Verizon Center crowd of 18,728, most of whom had seen the Wizards go 18-5 at home since Wall returned to the lineup in January, then began to boo.
Having dropped to 24-23 overall since Wall's return, the best that the Wizards can finish the year is in a tie for tenth in the East with the Toronto Raptors (31-47), but that will require winning twice on the road, where they've lost their last six in row.
"You want to finish the season strong no matter what," Wall said. "You're not going to give up on no games. That's what you get a bad reputation for so we're going to go out there and compete no matter if we have four or eight guys out there. We've just got to do a better job of staying focused and playing better defense."
Before the game, Wall thanked the fans, made no predictions about next season, and told them that like them, he began the year as a spectator. With the final home game of his third NBA season out of reach, he took a seat for the final 45.1 seconds and became one again.