- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2012

With 24.3 seconds left in Friday night’s game, the Washington Wizards led the New York Knicks by one point. John Wall had just scored on a fast break to put the Wizards ahead, and the Verizon Center crowd was on its feet, feeling a victory. It would have been the Wizards‘ first this season.

But Knicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony hit a jumper on the following possession, putting New York in the lead once again. The Wizards were unable to connect in the closing seconds, as they watched their best hope for a win since the opening game against the New Jersey Nets slip away with a 99-96 loss.

“It’s disappointing because we played hard, played with good energy,” Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. “Two things hurt us: turnovers and missed free throws. They made 27 points off turnovers, and we shot 61 percent from the free-throw line and missed some free throws in the fourth quarter.”

The Wizards turned the ball over 23 times to the Knicks‘ 20.

“I feel bad for the guys, as hard as they competed, but we’ve just got to lace them up tomorrow and come back on Sunday [against Minnesota],” Saunders said.

Prior to the game, Saunders refused to label it a “must-win,” calling it instead a “must-play-well” game. The Wizards, to their credit, did get off to a fast start and led by as many as 16 points early in the second quarter.

But it was the Knicks that came storming back to cut Washington’s lead to one point by halftime and took the lead with the opening bucket of the second half. The Wizards managed to keep it close — fighting back in the second half — but ultimately wound up where they’ve found themselves in all seven games this season.

Saunders cited foul trouble, along with a few missed opportunities, and the pitfalls of having rookie Chris Singleton guarding four-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony among the reasons for the loss. Anthony led all scorers with 37 points.

“It’s a prime example of getting beat by an All-Pro player,” Saunders said of the matchup.

The coach was impressed by Singleton’s energy and effort as well as Trevor Booker’s. Singleton played 26:41 and had 12 points and seven rebounds, while Booker was in the game for 21:06, totaling eight points and seven boards. 

“I just tried to hold my own,” Singleton said. “I knew I could shoot; that’s something I worked on during the whole lockout.”

Even though the team remains winless, Wall appeared to be in better spirits than he has after the other Wizards‘ losses, perhaps deciding to take comfort in a competitive, hard-fought game.

“This is the best game we had,” Wall said. “I thought we played great: we competed, we gave ourselves a chance to win. We made some shots down the stretch.

“We didn’t get down on ourselves, we just kept competing and fought our way back.”

Wall scored 22 points on 10-of-22 shooting, with nine assists and five turnovers, while Nick Young led the Wizards with 24 points on 9-of-20 shooting.

“I hope everyone’s attitude is positive now,” said Andray Blatche, who scored 15 points on 7-of-11 from the field. “We played with a lot of heart, a lot of passion. That’s the kind of effort we have to have every game.”