- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2012

Once again, the Washington Wizards opened up a big lead on an opponent, and once again, they blew the lead late — this time, coming away with a loss after holding a 16-point advantage late in the third quarter.

With 46.8 seconds to play, guard Joe Johnson found himself wide open on a missed defensive switch and connected on a 3-pointer to give the Hawks their first lead, 93-92, since the final seconds of the first quarter. For the second straight game, John Wall dribbled too long in the final seconds, heaving a 3-point jumper at the buzzer that missed, as the Wizards fell 95-92 at Verizon Center.

The Wizards had their second inexplicable collapse in as many games and start off perhaps their toughest stretch of the season — the first night of their first back-to-back-to-back — on the worst possible note. They scored only 14 points in the fourth quarter.

“We’re making shots throughout the whole game, but to be great in this league and be a better team, and be better players, you’ve got to be able to close out games,” Wall said. “They forced us to take tough shots, and we just fell short.”

The Wizards wasted an outstanding performance by their new center Nene, who played like he did in his first outing on March 21, when he put up 22 points and 10 rebounds against the New Jersey Nets. On Saturday, he had 21 points and 11 rebounds.

“I’m proud of my team,” Nene said. “We played hard, we worked really really hard, but we lost. Every game, we’re learning something. We were right there. We have a lot of young players. We’re learning.”

Jordan Crawford, who is shouldering more of the scoring load since the departure of Nick Young, had 20 points on 19 shots, including a couple of ill-advised jump shots in the fourth quarter.

Wall also struggled from the floor, going 1-for-10, but managed eight points 

“We missed shots, we didn’t get the ball inside,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “We played one way up until this trade [to acquire Nene] and now we’ve got to break that. The ball’s got to get inside more. We’ve got guys that will pass the ball back out. The ball’s got to go inside more than it does, especially when it gets down to crunch time.”

It was an important night for the Bullets/Wizards franchise, which held their second annual alumni association reunion. The game was attended by several former members of the team, including Stan Love, Bobby Dandridge, Tracy Murray, Bob Ferry and Kevin Grevey.

The organization’s goal is to connect the Bullets past with the Wizards present through a variety of grassroots campaigns and community service initiatives.

“There’s a whole generation of people in Washington, D.C., who don’t remember what a proud franchise the Bullets used to be,” said Murray, who played for the franchise from 1996-2000. “We would like to help restore some of that.”

In this lottery-bound season, pride may be difficult to associate with the Wizards, owners of the second-worst record in the league at 11-36.

Wall had a chance to speak with a few of the franchise’s former players and came away with a better understanding of the weight on his shoulders as the new face of this team.

“It means a lot,” Wall said of being around former Bullets’ greats. “You try to communicate with [guys like that] as much as possible.”



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