Injuries and third-quarter cold spells. Such has been the theme of the Washington Wizards‘ lost season, and that combination doomed the squad yet again in a 101-99 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Monday night at Verizon Center.
With only eight healthy players, a 14-0 third-quarter run by the Bulls and a 6-for-26 third-quarter shooting performance by the Wizards proved too disastrous a recipe as Washington fell to 16-56 and suffered its fifth consecutive loss.
“Third quarter. Thirteen points. What was it 33-20?” Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott lamented. “I don’t know what the lack of urgency is in the third quarter. It has plagued us all season long; it has cost us losses all season long. Then we were scrapping to get back. Nice effort to get back by us, but we should not have been in that situation.”
Franchise player Gilbert Arenas said he plans to make his long-awaited season debut Saturday, but the Wizards could have used him or any other healthy body they could find.
Second-leading scorer Caron Butler missed his sixth straight game with a strained left hamstring. Darius Songaila, who had started 27 consecutive games while filling in for injured teammates, found himself a member of the injured club, nursing a pinched nerve in his neck that kept him from raising his right arm above his shoulder without intense pain.
Backup guard Juan Dixon had missed two straight games with a strained right Achilles tendon but returned Monday night. After logging nine minutes in the first half, he aggravated the injury and left the game.
Songaila’s absence forced Tapscott to shuffle things again, using the team’s 15th starting lineup of the season. Second-year guard Nick Young took Butler’s spot, and Andray Blatche - who had started the past four games at power forward - moved to center. Antawn Jamison returned to his natural position of power forward, and Dominic McGuire - who spent the past four games filling in at shooting guard - moved back to small forward. Mike James remained at point guard.
The lineup appeared to be working during the first quarter as Washington used a 12-0 run to take a 22-10 lead before heading into the second quarter up 27-19. The Wizards extended their lead to 11 points early in the second, but the Bulls outscored them 17-9 to pull within 42-39 with three minutes left in the half.
Thanks to a three-point play from backup point guard Javaris Crittenton and a turnaround jumper by Jamison, Washington went up 47-41 heading into halftime.
But Chicago used a 14-0 run in the third quarter to take a 61-55 lead. Pacing the Bulls’ attack was Ben Gordon, who scored 14 of his team-high 21 points and pulled down five rebounds in the third quarter.
“We get too relaxed after we come in at halftime. … We need to come out with the same approach that gave us the lead in the first half, and we didn’t do that,” said Crittenton, who had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists off the bench. “We’ve got to have a bulldog mentality.”
The Wizards trailed 74-67 heading into the fourth quarter but fell behind 88-77 with 6:09 left. Then Jamison put his team back in the game, scoring eight unanswered points, including a 3-pointer that pulled Washington within 88-85 and forced a Chicago timeout with 3:57 left.
If ever the absence of Butler were felt, it was the two-minute span that followed Jamison’s tear. The Bulls loaded up on Jamison, who didn’t touch the ball on the next three possessions. The Bulls, meanwhile, went back up 96-87 until Washington found a way to get the ball to their captain.
JaVale McGee capped the Wizards’ final spurt - a 9-2 run - when he threw down a tomahawk jam, cutting the lead to 98-96. But fellow rookie Derrick Rose produced a play on the other end, sucking the defense to him as he drove from the right sideline and then dishing to Kirk Hinrich for a layup with eight seconds left.
Young answered with a 3-pointer that pulled the Wizards within 100-99 with three seconds left, but Gordon made one of two foul shots to seal the victory.