INDIANAPOLIS — Andray Blatche searched for words, shook his head, then paused to pull on his shirt to stall for time.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Dray said after mustering just one point in his team’s 102-86 loss to the Pacers. “I swear I don’t even know what to say. Tough for us. I’m just lost for, uh, this whole game I’m just speechless. This whole game I’m just stuck. I’m just speechless.”
It was that bad of a night. Minus the No. 0 on the floor, it felt like I was zapped back in time to last season. Poor execution, poor defense, listless performance. No one seeming to care.
It was enough to make Flip Saunders even put Mike James in the game in an attempt to find someone that would play hard. Afterwards, Flip said: “I was just trying to get someone to play hard. I told those guys at halftime, ‘I can’t coach effort. You’ve got to come out, you’ve got to be prepared and play hard.’ And I didn’t think we played hard. And you also have to play with intelligence, and as I told them, I was going to put guys out there that were going to play hard and intelligent and try to get us back into the game.”
But it didn’t work.
Antawn Jamison cussed his teammates out after the loss, and was so loud you could hear him through the cinderblock walls on the otherside of the locker room. He called his players out for not taking their job seriously despite the fact that they make millions, dropping F-bombs along the way. Once he finished his address and stormed out the locker room alone, the Wizards were all pretty quiet. A fruit platter lay shattered on the floor with slices of honeydew on the floor as well. Things definitely reached a boiling point tonight.
With each game that passes, it’s more and more obvious that the Wizards need their leader. Gilbert may be the highest paid player on the team, but he even said tonight, that this is Antawn’s team.
“He’s the leader of this team,” Gil said. “His voice is very powerful.”
And without that leader on the floor, this team looks lost even with their $111 million man.
Remember back in the preseason, on media day, when someone asked Gilbert about stepping up as a leader and he replied, “Well before that, let me ask you what a leader is? Is a leader someone who shows up four hours before games and practices and works, and leads by example, or is a leader someone who’s a leader because the coach says he is?”
It’s becoming obvious that with Jamison out, the Wizards need Gilbert to be more than a leader by example when it comes to preparation. They need someone who will set the tone for them, jumpstart them and step on some toes if needs be.
Arenas failed to set the pace for the Wizards, and his teammates followed suit. Rather than coming out aggressive — not just scoring, even if it was driving and kicking, just attacking in some way or form — the Wizards would have responded to that energy. Instead, he came out passive, and there was no one to light the fire.
Arenas said he was fine, just trying to make up for the other night when he took 27 shots, tonight he figured he would give other players the turn.
“I was fine. When you take 27 shots a couple night before, you’re just trying to get guys involved,” he said. “Twenty-seven shots, four assists, 10 shots, four assists. You just can’t win for losing. You gotta hit shots. That’s the only way you can get assists. You can pass the ball 100 times, and if no one makes a shot, and no one shoots the ball, you’re not going to get your assists up. You keep having games when we’re having more turnovers than assists than we’re never going to win.”
There’s got to be a happy medium. The Wizards, especially without Jamison, need Arenas to be attacking because although Caron Butler’s an excellent player, he can’t ignite the team like Gilbert could.
Tonight’s game represented a second chance for Nick Young, who entered the preseason as a strong candidate to earn the starting shooting guard job, but played his way out of the running with inconsistent play.
Young instead had been relegated to the bench, appearing in only three of his team’s five games and averaging just 8.7 minutes of playing time. Last week he was called upon in the second half of last week’s game in Atlanta when Butler went down with a knee injury. But he went 0-for-8 from the field.
Saunders after receiving good effort out of Young in recent practices decided to give him the start on Friday after Mike Miller sprained his left shoulder on Wednesday.
But Young was 1-for-3 in seven first-half minutes and didn’t return until midway through the fourth quarter with the game well out of hand. When the second half began, Saunders went with a three-guard lineup to better match up with Indiana, but Young wasn’t one of them.
Instead, both Randy Foye and Mike James joined Arenas, Butler and Haywood on the floor. That didn’t do the trick, either, however. Butler scored 10 third-quarter points, and Foye added eight. But that wasn’t enough to infuse life into a Washington squad, that staggered through the remainder of the game and suffered their worst defeat of the season.