Seeking a cure to this season’s plague of slow starts, Wizards coach Ed Tapscott shook up his lineup for Monday night’s game against the visiting Indiana Pacers, elevating Andray Blatche to starting center in place of struggling rookie JaVale McGee.
Blatche did a solid job offensively in only his second start of the season, but the Wizards authored another familiar tale, falling 118-98 to the Pacers. New lineup and all, Washington stumbled early, trailed most of the game, rallied and then went on to drop to 4-18. The start is the franchise’s worst since the Baltimore Bullets opened 4-21 in 1966.
“I’ve been in this locker room for four years, and in all the four years, this is the worst it’s been for us,” Blatche said. “We’re used to winning every season, and even if we have a slow start to the season, we always turn it around. But the difference between those seasons and this one is we always had effort. Always had guys who wanted to win and do things the right way.
“Everybody’s gotta step up. Me, everybody.”
The Wizards, who gave up at least 100 points for the 14th time, left the court to a chorus of boos from the sparse crowd of 14,502.
“The things we’re doing are correctable, but we’ve got to start doing it now,” Antawn Jamison said. “It’s embarrassing getting booed by your own crowd - and we don’t want that to happen ever again.”
A lack of offensive balance hampered the Wizards, who had just three double-digit scorers. Jamison finished with 26 points and 15 rebounds, and Caron Butler added 26 points and eight rebounds. After Blatche, the next closest output was eight points from backup forward Darius Songaila.
The Pacers, meanwhile, had five double-digit scorers, with Danny Granger leading the way with 27.
Indiana (8-16) scored off the opening tip thanks to a layup from Granger, and after eight lead changes in the first 3 1/2 minutes of play, the Pacers mounted a 24-15 run that resulted in a 33-27 lead as the first quarter came to a close. In the second, Washington shot 36 percent from the field, and Indiana kept its lead hovering around double digits and went in at halftime up 62-48.
This time, the Wizards managed to avoid their customary slow start to the third. They stormed out after halftime with a 21-10 run that pulled them within 72-69 with 5:53 left in the quarter. The Pacers remained ahead until Songaila scored on a layup from Mike James to tie the score at 79-79 with 2:21 remaining in the third. Indiana regained the lead, however, until Butler drilled a 3-pointer on an assist from Juan Dixon to force an 83-83 tie with 55 seconds left in the quarter.
But the Wizards’ momentum fizzled. The Pacers scored four unanswered points to close out the third; a 9-2 burst at the start of the fourth quarter lifted them to a 96-85 lead and forced a Washington timeout with 8:27 left.
“Once again, we came back to 83, and that was digging out of a hole,” Tapscott said. “Then two breakaway layups by them just sort of pricked the balloon and let all the air out of the balloon. It seems like there was some fatigue, and I’m disappointed. …
“We’ve got to break this pattern. We’ve got to find a way out.”
Note - The game was a homecoming for Indiana rookie center and former Georgetown standout Roy Hibbert. The 7-foot-2 Hibbert made his second consecutive start but left after grabbing just one rebound and not scoring in the first six minutes. He returned to play five minutes at the start of the third quarter and grabbed another rebound before returning to the bench until the waning moments, when he scored his only two points.