Frustration builds for Wizards

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With his team less than 10 seconds away from another collapse, Wizards All-Star forward Caron Butler fumed as he returned to the bench during a timeout. He cursed bitterly as he sat down, stood back up, cursed some more and then walked out of the huddle and to the end of the bench, where he plopped down in frustration.

It had happened again.

The Wizards, after battling back and forth with the visiting Dallas Mavericks the entire game, crumbled once more. This time it was a 97-86 defeat, which dropped them 4-21 this season. The loss, Washington’s sixth straight, caused them to tie the 1966-67 Baltimore Bullets for the worst start in franchise history.

The Wizards put themselves in position to win. They answered Dallas runs with scoring bursts of their own in a game that featured 16 lead changes and 11 ties. But then, as is this season’s theme, an inability to sustain a high level of play proved to be Washington’s undoing.

The Wizards faltered late in the third quarter, never regained sure footing and stumbled off in defeat.

“It’s ‘Groundhog Day,’ man,” said Antawn Jamison, who led the Wizards with 22 points and eight rebounds. “Same story. They went small, and it was a lot of miscues on defense. They did a lot of cutting, screening and we didn’t communicate well at all.”

After Washington led 44-42 at halftime, the Wizards and Mavericks exchanged blows in the third quarter, which featured a combined 14 ties and lead changes. But Dallas (15-11) made the final third-quarter push thanks to consecutive 3-pointers from sixth man Jason Terry, who finished with a game-high 25 points. Both of those shots from Terry came in the last 52 seconds of the quarter, giving his team a 70-68 lead heading into the fourth.

Dirk Nowitzki, whom Washington limited to nine points in the first half, got going with eight points in the third. And he kept rolling at the start of the fourth, extending the Mavericks’ run to 12-0 with six straight points. The Wizards, meanwhile, missed their first six shots of the quarter and fell behind 76-68 with eight minutes left.

“You try to wear them down,” Dallas guard Jason Kidd said of the Wizards. “Those guys play a lot of minutes. They’re a talented group of guys, and the ball just hasn’t bounced their way.”

Then things got especially embarrassing for the Wizards. After Washington cut the deficit to six points with 7:27 left, little-known Mavericks players like point guard Jose Barea and backup center James Singleton, along with starting forward Devean George — who is averaging 3.2 points — went to work. The trio scored 16 of their team’s final 21 points — 10 of them on an array of alley-oop dunks and layups — to bury the Wizards. Kidd fueled the barrage, racking up six of his 11 assists in the final 12 minutes.

“You had guys that wouldn’t normally be in the game in the fourth quarter killing us,” Jamison said. “The reason why they did that is because they moved the ball, they played as a team and that’s something we didn’t do tonight.”

The Mavericks outscored the Wizards in the paint (44-26), outperformed them on second-chance points (20-8) and reeled off 17 fast-break points while Washington mustered six. Dallas combined for 23 assists to the Wizards’ 18, and two Mavericks players — Singleton and Erick Dampier — reached double digits in rebounds, while no one from the Wizards pulled down more than eight.

“Those guys got a run going, and you can have that, but what’s our response at the other end?” coach Ed Tapscott said. “And that’s something we haven’t been able to find. They hadn’t stopped us all game. We were keeping pace — we were even ahead. What happened to us at the other end that while they’re scoring all of a sudden we couldn’t score? We need to take a hard look at what we’re doing on both ends of the floor. … No doubt, we’re still searching.”

Butler dressed quickly and didn’t speak to reporters after the game, but Tapscott said the forward’s frustration on the bench was understandable.

“It was frustration over not getting it done. Trust me, I would prefer to see anger over our losing than resignation,” Tapscott said. “You want to stay under control, but I can understand anger when things don’t work out, and that shows me caring and concern. We’ve just got to get it turned around.”

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