Wizards waste a good opportunity to end road woes
This may have been their best shot, and they knew it. And they blew it. If the Washington Wizards were going to stop being 0-for-the-road this season, there might not have been a better opportunity than Wednesday night at Bradley Center, where the Milwaukee Bucks have been struggling and depleted with injuries.
But after the Wizards let Earl Boykins and Keyon Dooling dominate them, and the offensively-challenged Bucks score at least 100 points for only the eighth time this season, they are now the sixth team in NBA history to start by losing their first 20 games away from home.
It's been 13 years since an NBA team started a season by losing at least 20 road games in a row. The Denver Nuggets started 0-22 in 1997-98, when no member of the Washington Wizards' current roster was in league.
The Dallas Mavericks' record of 29 consecutive losses to start the season appears to be in sight, with the Wizards looking at a schedule that includes upcoming road games against New York, Oklahoma City, Memphis, Dallas, New Orleans, Cleveland, Orlando, Philadelphia and Miami. Memphis, Cleveland and Philadelphia are the only teams with losing records, but the Wizards have proven that the quality of the opponent doesn't matter. When they are on the road, the opposing team can add a victory to the win column.
And, the thing about this losing streak that makes it dangerous is that teams won't overlook the Wizards when they show up. Usually bad teams can sneak into town and come away with a win, but opponents are aware of the Wizards' struggles and don't want to be the team that loses to them.
"It's not going to be nothing but tougher and tougher for us on the road," Rashard Lewis said.
The Wizards like to talk about they play off the crowd at home, but Bradley Center wasn't exactly what could be described as a hostile environment. The loudest boos of the night were when a guy walked around the arena wearing a Chicago Bears jersey. Former Bucks forward Yi Jianlian heared some light jeers when he scored in the first half, but there really was no need to fear the deer.
The Bucks were without starters Brandon Jennings, John Salmons and Carlos Delfino and trailed by 12 points in the second period, but the Wizards were never able to keep them down. Boykins, who had a few stellar outings last season for the Wizards, came off the bench and completely changed the tempo of the game, as he scored 11 of his 19 points in the first half. He quickly attacked Kirk Hinrich and got him in foul trouble, and added four assists, finding Corey Maggette for an alley-oop dunk. He also hit the back-breaking three-pointer late, getting some payback on his former team.
"He's as unique a player in this league as Yao Ming was at 7-5, with the things that he can do. He's been able to do that his whole life," said Coach Flip Saunders, who followed Boykins as he came up in Cleveland and playfully guarded him during pre-game warm-ups.
Too bad none of his players bothered to step in front of him. The Wizards were able to limit Andrew Bogut to just six points after holding him scoreless in the first half. "The plan was to stop Bogut," said JaVale McGee, who was unable to celebrate his 23rd birthday with a win. "We did that, but other people went off, like Boykins and Dooling."
Dooling more than tripled his season average, scoring 23 points after entering the game contributing 6.7 points per game. He hit some tough shots, with John Wall hounding, and he hit some open looks, with the Wizards appearing stunned nearly every time he got a shot to fall.
The Wizards didn't have the usual fourth-quarter breakdown, since they essentially buried themselves in the third period. After leaving the locker room with a two-point lead at halftime, the Wizards let the Bucks score the first eight points of the third period and came unglued in the final 5:06 of the period.
Saunders was disappointed that the Wizards didn't build a larger cushion in the first half, which had them playing uphill for most of the second half. "The way we played in the first half, we should've been up more than two," he said. "We put them to the free throw line too much, we didn't finish some plays. We lost our rhythm and in this game, when you lose your rhythm, it's hard to get it back."
Yi had a rebound tip-in to bring the Wizards within 64-62, but they missed their final eight shots of the third quarter, with Hinrich having his shot blocked by Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Wall getting his shot swatted by Drew Gooden. Saunders kept Wall, Lewis and Andray Blatche on the floor for the entire period, and the Wizards paid the price because all three looked gassed. It was odd substitution strategy since Saunders used every available player in the first half, when the team was able to establish control.
Lewis was just 3 of 11 from the floor and admitted afterward that the nagging tendinitis in his right knee affected the lift on his jumper. Saunders kept him in hoping he would get hot, but he never did. "My knee was bothering me all night. Felt like I couldn't be mobile like I want to," Lewis said.
Wall was fine, but struggled to get shots to fall, as he was able to get to the basket but unable to finish. He also was 3 of 11 from the floor. And, for nearly 13 minutes in the second half, Nick Young was the only Wizard to make a field goal. Unless it's LeBron James scoring 25 straight points against Detroit in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, then that probably isn't the formula for a win. Young had just 10.
"It's frustrating to be right there," Young said. "We all was looking for that first victory. We thought it would happen."
| January 20, 2011; 2:02 AM ET
Categories: Flip Saunders, John Wall, Nick Young, Rashard Lewis
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