- The Washington Times - Monday, December 26, 2011

For one half of basketball, the Washington Wizards teased a nearly sellout Verizon Center crowd by playing team basketball, shooting almost 55 percent from the floor, and playing solid defense, as they opened a 21-point lead over the New Jersey Nets in the NBA season opener for both teams.

In the second half, the Wizards lost focus, then the lead, and, ultimately, the game, 90-84.

But more disturbing than a blown lead and a loss is the fact that the Wizards resorted to bad habits that coach Flip Saunders had hoped his players had grown out of.

“Usually when you get up big like that in our league, teams are always going to make runs; it’s how you respond to those runs,” Saunders said.

“I thought we responded in a very selfish way. Everyone [was] trying to say ‘I’m going to do it myself’. We got up 20 by playing team basketball and doing it the right way and we went away from that.”

“When you start playing individual basketball, not letting the system take over, then everything becomes pressurized. That’s something I was extremely disappointed in. Its difficult to break old habits, but its something they have to do,” Saunders said.

During the two preseason losses, Saunders expressed his belief that the players didn’t trust one another. That is still part of the problem plaguing this team.

“Its a fine line,” Saunders said. “Is it trust, or do you think, ‘I can make a play to get us going again’? In our league, you can’t do it. Unless you’re one of the elite players. We don’t have anyone at that elite status right now, like a Deron williams that can just take the game over,” Saunders said.

Asked the inevitable comparison question regarding John Wall and Williams, Saunders responded “Deron Williams wasn’t an elite player his second year in the league.”

Wall described Williams as a player who can pick you apart. Wall’s offensive struggles continued, as he went 3-for-13 from the floor, and 7-for-13 from the line.

“When an All-Star player like that starts making tough, contested shots, there’s nothing you can do,” Wall said.

“I think they wanted the whole game more. After we was up 20, we just relaxed and when they came back, they just had more momentum than us and we didn’t come back strong.”

“When we got up 20, the ball stuck. It stopped being team game, how we were moving the ball to everybody going one-on-one. If we do this in the league, we have nobody on our team that’s that great to go one-on-one like that, and it cost us the game,” Wall said.

Despite the loss, it’s of some comfort to hear Saunders and Wall coming to the same conclusions. What’s disturbing is that the teams’ other appointed leader, Andray Blatche, sometimes sounds like he’s on a different page from Saunders and Wall.

“He probably was talking about me,” Blatche said, in response to a question about Saunders statement that the team was playing selfish ball.

“Because for the simple fact that I said that I need the ball in the paint to be effective. You can’t keep having me pick-and-pop, and shooting jump shots. I’m not saying the offense has to run through me but I prefer to be in the paint,” Blatche said.

But Blatche did see eye-to-eye with Saunders and Wall regarding the setbacks when players try to focus too much on their individual games.

“Our blessing was our curse,” said Blatche, who went 5-for-13 and scored 11 points, and had nine rebounds.

“Getting up by 20 so early and so easy was a curse for us, because then guys started to get relaxed, and then we all wanted to start to play one-on-one basketball,” Blatche said.

“What we did tonight isn’t going to work. Plain and simple. What we did tonight is just not going to cut it.”

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