Thursday, February 5, 2009

Before the Washington Wizards faced the New Jersey Nets with just eight players Wednesday night, interim coach Ed Tapscott was asked whether eight was enough.

“It’ll have to be,” he said.

It wasn’t. Then again, the way things have been going for the Wizards this season, 18 might not have been enough.

Caron Butler, the team’s second-leading scorer, was out with the flu, joining the other assorted casualties on an injury-depleted roster. The Wizards held together for most of the first half and even mounted a feisty comeback, but the visiting Nets regained the lead and then poured it on in a 115-88 victory.

Washington remained tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for the league’s worst record at 10-39 as another cozy gathering - the announced crowed was 12,602 - observed quietly except to yell during the various timeout promotions and boo the home team in the second half as the deficit exceeded 20.

“We had enough to compete for a half,” Tapscott said. “If we played a lot of 24-minute games and 32-minute games we’d be hell on wheels.”

Tapscott was forced to play the kids, which meant that Dominic McGuire, Nick Young, Javaris Crittenton, JaVale McGee and Oleksiy Pecherov all played significant minutes. Six Wizards scored in double figures, led by Young’s 21 points, but it didn’t matter.

“We had some struggles,” Tapscott said. “Young people playing, and they took us out of our game. They got us frustrated, and we couldn’t hold it together.”

Even though Tapscott and his staff emphasized the point, the Wizards had no answer for the Nets’ pick-and-roll and its maestro, point guard Devin Harris. The All-Star had 26 points and seven assists, and Vince Carter finished with his usual 20 points.

“We never could get Harris corralled,” Tapscott said.

Added veteran Wizards guard Mike James: “We didn’t make changes, and that’s what it’s about: adjusting. We didn’t adjust until it was too late.”

The Wizards also had trouble with the rookie inside tandem of Ryan Anderson and Brook Lopez, the former college rivals. Anderson, a 6-foot-10 forward from California, made three 3-pointers and had 18 points and nine rebounds. Lopez, the fast-improving 7-foot center from Stanford, made all six of his shots for 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.

The Nets shot better than 61 percent from the field. Meanwhile, the Wizards shot below 43 percent as Antawn Jamison, their leading scorer, went 4-for-20. With Butler out, it was no secret whom the Nets were targeting.

“Please don’t ascribe any blame to [Jamison],” Tapscott said. “They loaded their entire defensive package to stop him.”

The Wizards showed some grit after the Nets built a 10-point lead early in the second quarter. Before the game, Tapscott said the reduced numbers would provide “opportunities” for others, and it was Pecherov who stepped up.

The second-year forward, whose transition to the NBA has been difficult, led a 26-9 run that put the Wizards ahead 51-44 with 3:19 left before halftime. Pecherov hit a 3-pointer and scored seven points in a span of 2:05. By halftime, he had 11 points and finished with a season-high 13.

Averaging 2.7 points a game, Pecherov had scored a total of seven in his last six games.

“I’ve been waiting a long time,” he said. “I prepare myself for every game. I have a lot of energy. I just want to be effective and help the team. I’m a pro. I stay ready.”

But the Nets closed out the half with a 14-2 run to take a 58-53 lead and ran away with the game in the third quarter.

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