[It's bad enough that the Sixers mopped the floor with the Wizards on Wednesday night... Making matters worse, this fan represented Washington in the city of Philadelphia.]
Tuesday night in Washington against the Indiana Pacers, Andray Blatche helped the Wizards dart out to a quick start and a 30-25 lead after one quarter by contributing 12 points himself. Then Jeff Foster did his best Dennis Rodman impression by grabbing seven rebounds against JaVale McGee in the second quarter, as the Pacers held the Wizards to just 19 points while scoring 33 of their own. Just like that, Washington was down 58-49 at the half and never recovered en route to 113-96 loss.
Last night against the resurgent 76ers in Philadelphia, the Wizards started off with a strong effort once again. In the first quarter, John Wall had nine points and six assists, and Blatche and Young had eight and seven points respectively. The score was 31-24 after one quarter, and it appeared as if the Wizards had quickly learned their lesson after a sluggish performance the night before — a performance that made Flip Saunders question who and was not entitled to playing time.
Then that evil monster called the second quarter showed up and decided to spook the Wizards once again. This time, Josh Howard was the main target. Kirk Hinrich was in street clothes and probably getting text messages about the trade of he and Hilton Armstrong to the Atlanta Hawks, which meant that when Wall came out of the game with 8:52 left in the second quarter with the Wizards up 33-29, Howard had to play backup point guard for the second consecutive night.
The first time the 6’7″ Howard got the ball, he attempted a 10-foot jumpshot and it was blocked by the 6’1″ Sixers guard Lou Williams. The next time down the floor, Sixers guard Jrue Holiday played tight on-ball defense against Howard (who clearly is not used to playing point guard, let alone having to contend with a lightning quick natural point guard), and it drew the Wizards completely out of their offense. Still, Nick Young hit a tough shot and the game was tied at 35. On the next offensive possession, Howard was not as fortunate. Rookie Evan Turner forced him into making a bad pass that was intended for Rashard Lewis. Then Thaddeus Young stole the ball, streaked down the court and Howard was forced to foul him. Young hit both free throws to put the Sixers up 37-35.
Nick Young and Al Thornton then traded baskets with Thaddeus Young, and the Wizards found themselves down 41-40 with 4:28 left in the quarter. Howard next came down and threw a pass beyond the oustretched arms of Young and out of bounds. This immediately prompted Coach Flip Saunders to put John Wall back into the game. But even Wall couldn’t stop the bleeding. Holiday scored consecutive baskets on him, which put the Sixers up 45-40 with 3:46 left in the first half.
In the 4:22 Wall was on the bench, the Sixers outscored the Wizards 12-7, and 10 of the those 12 points were scored by their bench. And with Wall no longer putting pressure on their defense, the Sixers gained confidence by disrupting Howard, which in turn disrupted the Wizards offense overall. Wall did his best to restore order with five points in the last 2:48, but the momentum he had built with Blatche and Young earlier in the quarter was nowhere to be found. The Wizards were outscored 30-18 in the second period and found themselves down 54-49 at halftime.
Being down five points with two quarters left does not sound like an insurmountable deficit under normal circumstances. But when you’re 1-26 on the road, on the second night of a back-to-back where the first game was lost in the second quarter, and a young team short on confidence, that deficit seems huge. The Wizards were outscored even more (34-15) in the third quarter, and at that point the trade with the Hawks (which became official) was much more interesting than the game. The Wizards went on to lose 117-94.
The good news for the Wizards is that healthy help is on the way. The duties of backup point guard will be transferred from the injured Hinrich to the uninjured Mike Bibby, who will arrive with Jordan Crawford and Maurice Evans. Evans and Bibby are veterans who have played on playoff teams, and perhaps along with Crawford, they can bring a new attitude and approach to the team — specifically in that tricky second quarter.
The bad news is that the Wizards have to travel to Miami on Friday to play a Heat team that is way more talented and dangerous than the Pacers or the Sixers — both of whom blew the Wizards out. That game could very well be out of reach before the horn blows to start the second quarter.
One more bit of bad news … the number one draft pick is frustrated.