It's just one game, but the Wizards' six-point loss to the New Jersey Nets felt far worse than that.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - On most nights, Andray Blatche is the first player dressed by the time the media enters the Washington Wizards' locker room. On Monday night, though, Blatche was still in his uniform as a swarm of reporters surrounded his locker. He was still in his uniform when that swarm of reporters left, sitting, staring blankly and trying to figure out how the Wizards blew a 21-point lead in a 90-84 season-opening home loss to the New Jersey Nets on Monday night.
A number of things happened to Blatche between the time the media entered and the time post-game access ended. He couldn't find the words in his first answer, pausing for several seconds in the middle of a sentence. He sounded off on the way he was being used in Flip Saunders' offense. He got consoled by a well-dressed Nick Young, then had a pow-wow session with newcomer Ronny Turiaf. But the image of Blatche sitting, slumping in the his seat outside his locker in full uniform, was the defining one on a night where it felt like the sky was falling after just one game.
"I mean, I don't know [what happened]," Blatche said, his voice trailing off.
The Wizards led the Nets, 38-17, at one point. They were moving the ball offensively and using their quickness to confuse the Nets on defense. But just as soon as it was going well, it fell apart. The Nets closed the half on a 20-7 run to pull to within eight, then took the lead in the third quarter. A brief spurt fueled by Chris Singleton and Roger Mason pushed the Wizards' lead back to eight points early in the fourth quarter, but the Nets went on a 9-0 run to regain control. Down the stretch, the Nets ran their sets, while the Wizards were done in by costly turnovers, mostly from John Wall, and ended up losing.
To hear coach Flip Saunders say it, the Wizards played selfishly.
"Usually, when you get up that big, teams are going to make runs," he said. "It's how you respond to those runs, and I thought we responded very selfishly. Everyone said they were going to try to do it themselves."
Saunders also said his Wizards' players got tired, implying they were out of shape down the stretch. This was something Wall agreed with when asked.
"I think when you go back and watch film of yourself and watch film as a team, you see which guys are really playing hard and running hard," Wall said. "Those are the ones that put extra time in to work on their conditioning."
That assessment stood in stark contrast to Blatche's own diagnosis. The Wizards' forward took to Twitter to lobby for more touches in the paint, but he also said the same thing to reporters in the locker room.
"I said that I need the ball in the paint to be effective. You can't keep having me pick and pop and shoot jump shots," he said. "Give me the ball in the paint. That's where I'm most effective at. I've been saying that since training camp. I need the ball in the paint. I don't want to be the pick and pop guy I used to be, because that's not working for me."
In this game, Blatche was 0-4 on shots inside of nine feet that he created for himself, so it's tough to buy his assessment. Wall was a bit confused when Blatche's comments were relayed to him.
"I mean, I don't know," he said. "In practice, he gets the ball on pick and pops, and in practice, he gets the ball on the block. Whatever the play is called, that's where the ball has to go."
Of course, Wall himself was a huge part of the problem as well. His uneven play from the preseason carried over, as he was completely outplayed by Deron Williams on both ends of the floor. After the game, Wall calmly repeated the same refrain about committing fewer turnovers, but mostly, he was out of answers. He said his big men need to help him more on the pick and roll and said his teammates need to be in better condition, but provided few new answers about what he needs to improve. He probably just wanted to watch the film before the soul-searching began.
That wasn't the approach anyone else took. Nick Young, who had 16 points in his first game back after re-signing with the team, was his usual casual self, but still took time to call out his good friend Blatche for not letting bad plays go. Singleton, who was impressive in his debut, said he and his teammates "shut down" and "can't be tired" if they want to win. And then there was Blatche, the man propped up as a leader of the team; the man who took just one game to call out his coach and slump in his chair as if the Wizards lost a playoff game.
If this is the post-game scene after just one game, it's going to be a long shortened season.
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