If there's anger brewing beneath the surface for the Wizards, who are four games under .500 for the first time this season, it's not showing. For the first time, however, John Wall didn't have anything to say following Friday's 97-88 loss to the Toronto Raptors at Verizon Center.
That probably was coincidental because the star point guard, who had seven turnovers for the second game in a row, had to get treatment for injuries and ailments that he has played with since early November. The Wizards had to hop a plane and head to Orlando where they'll face the Magic on Saturday. And what more could he say that hadn't already been said anyway? DeMar DeRozan spoke volumes for Toronto.
"I wouldn't necessarily say it's a rivalry," said DeRozan, who was rattled in their playoff first-round matchup swept by the Wizards in four games. "I was here during the playoffs and that was a bad feeling to get swept. Coming back here, just playing against them gives you that same reminder of what happened."
While the first two meetings were close, won 84-82 and 94-91, this was the most unattractive of the three as both teams combined for 42 turnovers. DeRozan and his backcourt mate, point guard Kyle Lowry, combined to score 20 each on 6 of 9 shooting in a decisive fourth quarter.
That drops the Wizards (15-19) to 8-11 at home and desperate to find answers as the season creeps toward the mid-point. DeRozan's previous season-high was 34 points set against the Wizards. He topped that with 35.
The Wizards went from scoring 115 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers, to taking a 10-point lead in the first quarter against the Raptors to struggling with a 14-point third quarter that allowed them to come back. The result is a three-game losing streak after being at the cusp of getting over .500 for the first time since mid-November.
"We take shortcuts. We try to take easy ways out. We don't make hustle plays," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "The last three games, we're not committed for 48 minutes. ... We play good defense and a shot goes up and we just stand and (they) pick up a loose ball and put it in. Those things happen too often."
That moment that Wittman is likely referring to is when James Johnson, not noted as a scorer, had his shot blocked by Marcin Gortat, collected his own loose ball and got the putback without a fight for a 60-57 lead. That was part of a 13-4 run to enter the fourth with a double-digit lead. Johnson barely touched the floor in the playoff series but had eight points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes.
The pace that Wall had the Wizards with in the first quarter, an 8-0 edge in fast-break points, evaporated.
"We got out and ran in the first quarter which we wanted to do against this team. The last two (games vs. Toronto), we played at their pace and that's not good for us," said Wizards shooting guard Garrett Temple. "For whatever reason the pace dropped off. They started running plays to get switches on our guards. They were taking advantages of some mismatches. They scored 35 buckets on 11 assists. At the end of the day, it's about guarding one-on-one."
Jared Dudley wasn't with the Wizards last season when they shocked the Raptors in the playoffs even though they had home-court advantage. But he senses a loss of confidence in how his team plays. That energy that the Raptors showed is absent unless Wall is playing his best and leading the charge. Lowry wasn't deterred when he opened 0-for-4 and had four turnovers in the first quarter. He ended with 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals. He never stopped grinding even as Gortat blocked him twice at the rim.
"I think when you're bored with the process, sometimes it's easy to take shortcuts. You know you haven't shot the ball in a while, you want to come get your shot up," Dudley said. "I'm someone where it doesn't matter if I get 10 shots or two shots. It's making the right play at the right time and hoping that the system comes back to you."
The Wizards have made late-season runs for the last two years and ended up with No. 5 seeds in the postseason. They're 8-1 in this first-round games, upsetting the Chicago Bulls and then Raptors.
But the East is deeper and the field more crowded. Making the playoffs will be more difficult and their prospects of getting one of the top four seeds to get home-court advantage in the first round are dwindling. Eight other teams have between 15-19 losses.
"I don't think we're in panic mode," Temple said. "We got to defend. We got to knock down shots and play basketball that we're capable of playing to get back in the playoff picture. Two years ago we made the playoffs, at the end of January we finally got over that hump of getting over the .500 mark. There's still light at the end of the tunnel."
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