PHILADELPHIA -- For whatever reason, or maybe reasons, the Wizards can't seem to get out of their own way when it comes to playing the Philadelphia 76ers and Thursday's near disaster was no different than the previous three.
The worst team in the NBA cut a 24-point deficit down to nothing twice in the fourth quarter, after the Wizards had 12 turnovers in the third alone set the stage for the rally. If John Wall doesn't make all eight of his foul shots in the final 15 seconds maybe they don't escape with a 99-94 victory to win the season series 4-0.
"These are lessons that need to be learned," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "Until we understand in this league that no game is safe at halftime, we're going to have inconsistencies that we've had this year. I could just sense, trying to tell them at halftime ... this team wasn't going to go away. They play, they play and they keep playing. We came out in the third quarter and thought we're going to try new tricks."
Wall put forth his fourth triple-double of the season but was the main culprit with nine giveaways. Four came in the third when Philadelphia turned the tied. No player other than Otto Porter scored more than two points in the Wizards' 15-point third quarter.
This happened Feb. 29 at Verizon Center, Washington led 60-48 at halftime, fell down 74-66 in the third and then erupted for a 16-0 run led by Wall and Marcin Gortat to put them away 116-108. A few days before that, the Wizards trailed for most of three quarters at 72-66 until a 10-0 run steadied them to 103-94 win in Philadelphia.
"They've been playing hard every game that we've played them," said Garrett Temple, who had to start at shooting guard while Bradley Beal sat out with soreness in his pelvis. "We have to find ways to come out in the second half and put teams away. That's something that's been our Achilles heel. In order for us to grow into the team we want to be, we got to learn how to put people away. ... We turned the ball over too much."
Wall not only turned the ball over a lot, but he was just 4 of 17 shooting. He made all eight of his free throws to close them out. He wasn't as sharp as the point guard who was sensational for the Wizards in a 43-point rout of the Detroit Pistons and a 21-point win vs. the Chicago Bulls this week.
The Sixers (9-59) changed their coverages in the second half because there were blatant mismatches created by their switching that allowed the Wizards to shoot 53% int he first half. That accuracy dropped by almost 20% in the final two quarters as Gortat (8 of 10) didn't have a shot attempt after halftime.
"Most teams, when you start the third quarter and get a big lead, will quit and fold," Wall said of the Wizards, who led 58-39 at halftime and increased that to 67-43 on a three-pointer from Porter with 8:32 left. "They're a team that keeps fighting. We stopped moving the ball and started to force it into double-teams and overdribbling."
The Wizards (33-35) will be off Friday and get ready for Saturday's winnable home game vs. the New York Knicks, who handed them their first loss at Verizon Center in the first week of the season. Playing down to the opposition again could be even more dangerous because unlike the Sixers the Knicks have a player in Carmelo Anthony who can erupt for 40-50 points at any time. He doesn't need help with extra possessions because of Wall's turnovers.
"He's got 17 in two games now. Good thing is John wasn't happy about it. He stepped up and made (eight) big free throws. Gortat had a huge tap back," Wittman said of his center giving them an extra possession after a missed foul shot that made it a two-possession game with 14.6 seconds left. "Marcus Thornton hit a couple big shots. Those were plays we had to make coming down the stretch but we put ourselves in position to have to do that.
"If you want as an individual and as a team to continue to reach the next levels, you've got to be more professional in finishing out games."