INDIANAPOLIS | The one-armed team captain stormed from the locker room alone after unleashing a vicious, expletive-laced tongue-lashing.
Antawn Jamison, still recovering from a partially dislocated right shoulder, had just watched suit-clad from the end of the bench as his Washington Wizards stumbled and fumbled their way through a 102-86 loss to the Indiana Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse on Friday night.
And as if the poor performance - marked by 19 turnovers and 58 percent shooting from the free throw line - weren’t cause for enough frustration, the nonchalant response the two-time All-Star power forward observed from some of his teammates sent him over the edge.
Meanwhile, first-year coach Flip Saunders was just as frustrated but publicly showed it in more of a stunned, reserved manner as his team seemed to regress as it dropped to 2-4 with its third straight loss.
Saunders had thrown darn near everything at the Pacers. He tried the traditional lineup (though it was his third of the season thanks to injuries). He tried a small lineup. He played Gilbert Arenas on the ball. He played him off the ball. He used all 12 players at his disposal.
But none of that worked. From start to finish, the Wizards were listless on offense and defense, and aside from a career-high 19 rebounds from center Brendan Haywood and a second straight double-double from Caron Butler (24 points and 12 rebounds), there were basically no positives to take from the defeat.
“I was just trying to get someone to play hard,” Saunders said, referring to the multiple combinations of players and schemes he used. “I told those guys at halftime: ‘I can’t coach effort. You’ve got to come out, you’ve got to be prepared and play hard.’ And I didn’t think we played hard. And you also have to play with intelligence, and as I told them, I was going to put guys out there that were going to play hard and intelligent and try to get us back into the game.”
Unfortunately for Saunders, the Wizards - who trailed 23-19 after one quarter and 53-41 at halftime - never got back into the game. And the Pacers’ play couldn’t be described as dominant.
They only shot 40 percent from the field, outrebounded the Wizards only 51-47 and had just three more assists (19-16). But the 22 points scored off Washington’s 19 turnovers, along with 23 fast-break points, paved the way for Indiana.
Danny Granger’s 22 points led five Pacers players in double digits. Arenas managed just 13 points on 10 shots. It was a drastically different Arenas from the one who entered the game averaging 27.6 points and Wednesday took 27 shots and scored 32 points in a loss to Miami.
“When you take 27 shots a couple nights before, you’re just trying to get guys involved,” Arenas said. “Twenty-seven shots, four assists. Ten shots, four assists. You just can’t win for losing. You gotta hit shots. That’s the only way you can get assists. You can pass the ball 100 times, and if no one makes a shot and no one shoots the ball, you’re not going to get your assists up. You keep having games when we’re having more turnovers than assists, then we’re never going to win.”
Arenas scored his 10,000th career point with a 3-pointer in the second quarter. Haywood also achieved a milestone with his overall performance on the boards (his 11 defensive rebounds also marking a career high). But instead of being able to relish the moment, the pair were left frustrated.
“We’ve got to get better as a team,” Haywood said. “Everybody from the starting unit to the bench, you have to be ready to play at a certain level. And if you’re not, then don’t play. That team played very hard tonight, and I’m not sure that we, as a unit, as a team, matched their energy. Everybody has to come out as a team and match their energy night in and night out.
“You’re not always going to make shots, but you can control your effort.”
• Mike Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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