It’s only the first game after the All-Star break, but one in which the Washington Wizards looked to be heading in the opposite direction of will than that of their opponent, the Indiana Pacers. Frank Vogel’s team beat down the Wizards 113-96 on Washington’s home court Tuesday night, making Indiana’s record 8-3 since a coaching change tabbed Vogel as the new head man. The Wizards, on the other hand, plod forth.
“[Jeff] Foster,” began a post-game sentence from Washington coach Flip Saunders. (Yes, Jeff Foster, of the Pacers … that Jeff Foster … being mentioned in a post-game sentence from an opposing head coach. Go figure.) “We started that second quarter,” Saunders continued, “you know, JaVale [McGee] was matched up on him [Foster], they had 10 to one rebounds, he had six rebounds in the first three and a half minutes. That right there kind of set the tone for the rest of the game. We were up 35-30, and they just came out and mauled us.”
Indiana would outscore Washington 33-19 in the second quarter and never look back; besting the Wizards 32-19 in the third quarter was simply the nail in the coffin. And to get technical, Foster grabbed seven rebounds, five of the offensive variety, in six minutes and 47 seconds of action in the second period.
The Wizards were able to narrow the final 51-49 edge Indiana held in rebounding thanks to a garbage-time fourth quarter in which Washington outscored the Pacers 28-23 and out-rebounded them 13-5. But on the night, it was Indiana’s hustle and physicality that further separated Ernie Grunfeld’s weak frontline of Andray Blatche and McGee from ever being able to coexist. This wasn’t evident more than by Indiana’s 45-26 advantage in free-throw attempts. Pacers big men Tyler Hansbrough, Josh McRoberts and Roy Hibbert combined to go 20-27 from the charity stripe, Hansbrough rattling in 9-10 on his own.
So why did the Wizards for the most part lie down and take it on this particular Tuesday night in a dead Verizon Center?
“That’s why I’d say the All-Star break is a blessing and a curse,” said Blatche after the game. “You leave and you don’t do much over the weekend and that can affect everything that you do when you come back.”
“After All-Star breaks, the game is always sloppy on both halves,” said Rashard Lewis, before conceding that the Pacers played harder than the Wizards. “Least we could did was gave some effort, even though the game was a little sloppy, we could’ve played a little harder,” Lewis concluded.
The least the Wizards can do is the often way they perform. Welcome to your new team, Mr. Lewis. But where does it end and how does it stop? People making millions are having a hard time solving these tough problems.
It’s only the first game after the All-Star break, but the story is becoming very consistent. Ideally, the Wizards were looking to make a statement as to how they wanted to grow over the remainder of the season. Instead, they proved defeated by a lost sense of urgency.
“It depends,” said Flip Saunders after the loss when asked if his team has the urgency to compete down the stretch. “When I say it depends, I mean, the competitiveness of John Wall, [Trevor] Booker, [Kevin] Seraphin … there’s guys that, yea, I guess … the thing we’re trying to find out…” the coach somewhat trailed off.
“Do some of our starters — and I don’t know that — do they feel right now that they’re entitled as far as to play 30 or 35 [minutes] no matter how they’re playing?,” Saunders then rhetorically asked. “And that, that’s something that won’t … they’re not going to develop that way. They do have to have that sense of urgency.”
When asked if his players knew of the consequences, Saunders simply responded, “The consequences are you don’t play. Those are the consequences.”
Later, Rashard Lewis, John Wall, Nick Young, Andray Blatche and Josh Howard spoke on the threat level of playing time.
“Until we get that kind of effort that we give in practice and change it to the game, the same stuff’s going to be happening until the end of the season,” said Wall at the end of the clip.
The 2010 No. 1 draft pick is clearly patient, for now, as he also seems to understand the process of playing with talent lesser inclined to work as hard as he does. That can only last for so long. Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld can appear to buy all the time in the world by showing their blueprint for rebuilding, but they’re under the gun to get more players who want to improve with John Wall, and less of those dragging the team down.
It’s only the first game after the All-Star break, and the team has 27 more games to show improvement. But does anyone really believe they can?