- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 21, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY | The Washington Wizards may have all their pieces back after an injury-plagued first two weeks of the season, but they’re far from a well-oiled machine.

And Friday night, tipping off a two-game road trip, the Wizards put on a sputtering performance and fell 127-108 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Oklahoma City’s 127 points were the most the Wizards have given up all season, topping their previous high by 21.

“Where we’re at as a team, we have not evolved to be a team and grasp everything,” a frustrated Flip Saunders said after his team’s sixth double-digit loss of the season. “We came out of training camp and thought we’d be a poor rebounding team, so we worked extremely hard and have become a pretty good rebounding team. We worked on defense so much early and then our offense was struggling, so the last few days we put an emphasis on offense and it’s like we forgot all our defensive concepts.”

The Wizards (3-8) started off slow - falling behind by 10 in the first five minutes - responded with a spurt that put them back in the game, but went cold again and slipped into a double-digit hole. The roller-coaster ride continued throughout the game, and finally after pulling within 82-81 with three minutes left in the third quarter, Washington allowed Oklahoma City to outscore it 45-27 in the final 15 minutes of play.

“Every time they came out of a timeout, they went on a 6-0 run,” Gilbert Arenas said. “They just scored.”

Kevin Durant led the Thunder (7-6) with 35 points, Russell Westbrook added 26, and James Harden recorded 25 points. Caron Butler led the Wizards with 24 points, Arenas had 23, and Antawn Jamison posted 22 points and 12 rebounds. Brendan Haywood had 16 rebounds and 14 points.

Starting shooting guard Mike Miller aggravated his sprained left shoulder while diving to battle the Thunder’s Thabo Sefolosha for a loose ball in the first quarter. Miller, who has missed three games this month because of the injury, came up grabbing his arm and wincing but continued to play. With 3:24 left in the quarter, Miller was replaced by DeShawn Stevenson and went back to the locker room with Wizards athletic trainer Eric Waters.

Miller returned in the second quarter but still was in obvious pain and wasn’t effective on the offensive end (0-for-1 from the field) or defensive end (zero rebounds compared with his average of 7.4). Miller finished with five points on 2-for-4 shooting in 35 minutes, and Saunders said he wasn’t sure if Miller would be available for Saturday night’s game at San Antonio.

The Wizards trailed the entire first half despite shooting 50 percent from the field and receiving a combined 31 points from Butler (16) and Jamison (15), 10 points from Arenas and 11 rebounds from Haywood.

The Thunder, however, shot at a .532 clip (hitting seven of 11 shots from 3-point range). And Oklahoma City had four double-digit scorers by halftime, with Georgetown product Jeff Green leading the way with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Washington trailed by as many as 12 in the first quarter but pulled within two points in the second quarter thanks to a six-point scoring spurt from Andray Blatche. Oklahoma City took a 55-51 lead into the break.

The Thunder came out just as hot to start the third quarter as they had left off, extending their lead to 82-71 before Butler knocked down a 3-pointer on an assist from Arenas that cut the lead to single digits again with 4:32 left in the quarter.

A turnover on an inbounds play and back-to-back fouls by Nenad Krstic on Stevenson allowed the Wizards to quickly shrink the gap more.

Arenas converted a three-point play to pull his team within 82-81 with three minutes left in the third. But yet another Thunder charge left the Wizards down 95-86 entering the fourth.

“We dug too big a hole, we didn’t value the ball, and defense was awful from the tip to the final horn,” Haywood said. “We gave up over 30 every quarter, and that won’t cut it. Not on the road.”

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