After road wins against the Charlotte Bobcats and New Orleans Pelicans Jan. 7 and 8, the Washington Wizards were one game worse than .500 and seemed to be on an upswing. But they followed those wins with two defeats, both of which will be hard to forget.
On Jan. 10, the Wizards lost to the Indiana Pacers on the road, 93-66, their worst offensive output of the season, and tied for the third worst in franchise history. They shot 32.1 percent from the floor, had 13 assists and went 9-of-23 from the free-throw line.
"We didn't give ourselves a chance in the second half to win that game," coach Randy Wittman said. "They took us to the woodshed and beat us up."
What awaited them back at Verizon Center after their three-game road trip did not make for a happy homecoming. On Jan. 11, the Wizards lost to the Houston Rockets, 114-107, during a game marred by two "rain delays" because of a leaky roof. Nine seconds into the second quarter, there was a 35-minute delay as Verizon Center personnel worked to stop the leak. The game resumed, but was stopped again just after halftime for an additional 22 minutes.
"Now I wish they would have just canceled it," Wittman said after the game, his comments drawing laughter.
But Wittman's words for his team's performance were no laughing matter.
"Listen, we come out like we do at home," he said, "nonchalant, take it for granted, no sense of urgency, shortcut everything ... until we hold each other accountable and get it corrected. ... It starts with me, and it also starts in the locker room with having some leadership in there."
The Rockets adjusted to the delays better than the Wizards, coming out with more intensity, and built up a 25-point lead during the second half. Washington mounted a furious comeback, and went up by five points with 5:26 left during the fourth, before falling in the end.
"Disappointment," Wittman said in describing the loss. "Hey, if we lose, and we played that way for 48 minutes and we got beat, you know what, we just got beat by a better team tonight. We came back and played for about 17 minutes there, and we played with more heart than we did at any other point in that game. But you can't play 17 minutes of an NBA game against a good team."
Leading the Wizards in points were guard John Wall and forward Trevor Ariza, each with 23 points, and backup center Kevin Seraphin led the second unit with 18. Rockets All-Star guard James Harden led all scorers with 25, while All-Star Houston center Dwight Howard, who spent the delay entertaining the crowd by playing one-on-one with a young fan seated at center court, had 23.
"It's always hard," guard Bradley Beal said, "because we always get ourselves in those positions where we fight our butt off to get back in the game. [But] at the end of the game, we are drained and have no energy to finish the game off."
Washington (16-19) will try to put these two latest losses behind it as it prepares to face the new-look Chicago Bulls Jan. 13. The Bulls are without All-Star guard Derrick Rose, who is out for the season with a torn meniscus. Chicago also recently traded All-Star forward Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for center Andrew Bynum, and then released Bynum. Despite the roster shakeup, the Bulls (17-18) are on a five-game winning streak and have won eight of their last 10 games.