The Washington Times - December 15, 2009, 02:56AM

     LOS ANGELES — After taking an unusually long time to emerge from the locker room, a haggard Flip Saunders said, “Not much to say.”

     The coach proceeded to answer questions, but didn’t have any real clear explanation for why what had just transpired unfolded as it did.


     “It’s the same thing it’s been,” he said. “The positive is, we’re in games. The negative is, we’re not winning. We’re not getting blown out, that’s the good thing. So you keep on fighting through it and hope something’s going to change.”

     As the coach said a few days ago, the Wizards keep inventing new ways to lose, and tonight’s method was blowing a 17-point third quarter lead, spotting the Clippers an eight-point fourth-quarter lead and trying — but failing — to rally for the victory.

     Gilbert Arenas didn’t have his sharpest of nights, going 4-for-14 from the field for 16 points. He had nine assists, but he also had six points.

     So it was more frustrations for Arenas, who wasn’t quite as dejected as the other night, but pretty close again tonight.

     “It’s hard because if this was before and I was in my old form, these are games that we would be pulling out. But I’m not,” Arenas said. “I haven’t played this game in two years. I’m just to be honest, happy to out there, having a chance to play again. In the meantime, it’s still a learning process for me. I’m learning referees. I’m learning spots, learning moves again. And I can’t do it in practice. all I can do it is in the game.”

     So, after Arenas fould out in the last three minutes of the game he could only watch as his teammates tried to rally.

     They just about did it. Caron Butler scored nine of his team’s last 11 points and pulled the Wizards within two points. But that was as close as they would get.

     The late offensive output from Butler helped salvage what appeared to be the makings of another off-night for Tuff Juice. But he finished with 20 points on 6-for-14 shooting. The Wizards were hoping to get the ball to him one more time when they got the ball back with 11.3 seconds left. But Earl Boykins dribbled the ball off his foot with 3.6 seconds remaining. Eric Gordon scooped up the loose ball, and killed any Wizards’ hopes for buzzer-beating heroics.

     Once again, the Wizards shouldn’t have been in this situation, however. As Flip Saunders likes to say, “some times the basketball gods have a way of equalizing things out.” Translation: do things the right way, or else, what you neglect is going to come back to bite you in the tail.

     The problem tonight for the Wizards was failing to protect a 17-point lead midway through the third quarter. Instead of slamming the door shut, the Wizards missed six of their next seven shots, and turned the ball over three times.

     Flip Saunders said, “Too much fluctuation. We went to our bench and had too much fluctuation. Right now we’re having a hard time playing without Antawn and Caron and Gilbert on the floor.” 

     This is crazy. Seriously. Just two weeks ago, the thing carrying the Wizards was strong bench play because Jamison, Butler and Arenas weren’t playing well together. Now those three are playing well and they can’t get the bench players going. It’s hard to get a feel for Flip Saunders’ rotations and substitutions becuase many times he appears to be grasping and hoping that he finds the key. But tonight, he went to his bench too early in the third quarter, and I wasn’t the only one who thought that.

     Said Gilbert Arenas: “The third quarter we were up 17, and then I felt we subbed a little too early. I picked up that fourth foul and had to sit, and then from there, Baron Davis threw some life back into them and he started making plays and getting them back into it. By the fourth quarter came and we got back in, we were down again.”

     Said Caron Butler: “It was a situation where coach, I think thought he had to take some of us out. we had a nice run going and I think Gilbert picked up a fourth foul. I came out. Antawn Jamison was hot, so he was still out there. But Baron Davis, some of them guys got into a rhythm and felt a groove. A team like that, with so much talent, gets a rhythm, it’s kind of hard to cool them off.”

     Saunders said he was trying to get his core guys a breather, and hoped the reserves would be able to hold down the fort. But they weren’t, and forced shots, poor communication and turnovers proved the Wizards undoing …. again.

     And like it’s a different way, seemingly every time. A few weeks ago I likened the Wizards to the old Blonde joke, you know, about the blonde not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time. That’s exactly what they are. One game they can score but can’t defend. Another game they can defend and can’t score. Next they can’t get their all-star players going, but their bench is doing it’s part. Next, the starters are doing their thing, and the bench comes out flat.

    “Before the first unit wasn’t playing well and they had to come off the bench to give us a spark. Now the second unit isn’t playing well,” Arenas said. “Once we get all that together, we’ll be alright.”

     Yeah, but when will that happen? Hard to say, my friends. Up next, Sacramento….