- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Washington Wizards had a simple assignment - take care of the Memphis Grizzlies, losers of 12 straight and owners of one of the worst records in the NBA.

But the mission proved impossible for the Wizards, who remained in the league’s basement thanks to a 113-97 loss to Memphis in front of a season-low crowd of 11,442 at Verizon Center on Monday night.

“That was the worst effort I’ve seen us put forth since I’ve been here,” Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said after his team fell to 10-38. “I don’t know why just yet. I’ll spend much of tonight and most of tomorrow trying to figure out why. There wasn’t any effort. There wasn’t any life. It was just a very poor effort. I try to find a positive in everything, but it’s hard to find any positives tonight.”

When discussing his plan for attacking the Grizzlies before the game, Tapscott believed his team could exploit the inexperience of the youngest starting lineup in the league. Memphis’ starting unit features rookies O.J. Mayo, Darrell Arthur and Marc Gasol, second-year guard Mike Conley and third-year forward Rudy Gay.

The Wizards would work through Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler - as usual - and went right at the Grizzlies’ young players in an attempt to put them under pressure and get them into foul trouble.

Jamison and Butler combined to score the Wizards’ first 17 points and 24 of their 29 first-quarter points, but the young Grizzlies were undaunted. Mayo, who entered the game leading all rookies in scoring with 19.1 points a game, scored 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the first quarter to give his team a 32-29 lead.

Mayo and company led Washington for all but 42 seconds of the second quarter. Javaris Crittenton, whom Memphis traded to Washington on Dec. 10, scored on a layup just more than a minute into the second quarter to put the Wizards up 33-32. But 20 seconds later, Gay tied the score with a foul shot, and teammate Greg Buckner knocked down a jump shot to put the Grizzlies up 35-33.

Memphis led until 25 seconds remained in the quarter when Washington went on a 14-5 run to lead 57-56. It didn’t last; a 3-pointer by Conley and a 17-footer by Gay gave the Grizzlies a 61-57 lead at halftime.

The Wizards kept the game within reach for much of the third quarter and actually pulled ahead 75-71 with 4:58 left in the period. But then Washington went flat. Memphis - aided by six Wizards turnovers in the last five minutes of the third - closed out the quarter on a 19-2 run to lead 94-81 heading into the fourth.

Gay, who later this month will compete in the dunk contest during All-Star weekend, used the final minute of the third quarter to work on some acrobatic moves. With 48.3 seconds left he went up, brought the ball around his waist and then flipped in a reverse layup. He followed that up 14 seconds later with a tomahawk jam on a lob from Darius Miles.

The Wizards, who were outscored 20-4 on fast-break opportunities, failed to shrink the deficit and suffered their sixth loss in seven games.

“Turned the ball over, not playing smart, not getting back, giving them easy buckets,” said Jamison, whose team committed 17 turnovers that turned into 28 points for Memphis. “You can ill afford to play that way. Especially the way we played defense tonight, it was embarrassing. And to let it slip away in a span of four or five minutes, it’s kind of tough to swallow.”

Mayo led all scorers with 33 points - tying a career high - and Gay added 23 points. Gasol finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and Conley had 14 points and five assists.

Jamison led the Wizards with 29 points and 13 rebounds for his fifth straight double-double. Butler tallied 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists but turned the ball over six times.

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