WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Washington Wizards fell to 1-12 after a 114-106 loss to the Houston Rockets on Monday. There were lots of down moments in the game, particularly a third-quarter swoon that saw Houston take a double-digit lead. But the moment that will get plenty of scrutiny actually came on a play where the Wizards got two points.
With nine minutes and 36 seconds to go in the third quarter, JaVale McGee was all alone on the fast break, and instead of doing a normal dunk, he threw the ball off the backboard to himself and dunked it home to pull Washington to within four points. Nevertheless, Flip Saunders wasn't amused, and McGee was pulled from the game a few minutes later. He got back in early in the fourth quarter, but didn't play in the final nine minutes of the game.
Afterwards, McGee wasn't quite sure what he did wrong, saying he had no regrets about the move.
"Apparently, if you get a fast break and you throw it off the backboard in the third quarter and you're 1-11, you're not supposed to do stuff like that," McGee said, seemingly sarcastically. "I felt like I was trying to get the team hyped and trying to make a good play, so I felt like we did that, and we went on a run from there."
His coach did not agree.
"I told him that's unacceptable," Saunders said. "Maybe I'm too old-school, but save that for the All-Star Game. That right there is where we have to get to where we identify with meat and potato basketball. Playing hard, setting screens, playing the right way, and not highlight-type play. We've said this many times. We have some players that look for highlights instead of substance."
As for the rest of the players in the locker room, opinion was mixed. John Wall was on Saunders' side.
"A dunk is a dunk. It would have been better if he went in and did a regular dunk. We're 1-11," Wall said. "There was no point in doing that. I know he was excited, but if we make a basket, that's all that counts."
Veteran Mo Evans also agreed with Saunders, saying the experience reminded him of when he was with the Detroit Pistons and they kept losing in the Eastern Conference Finals.
"I've been on a team in the past where we kind of showboated a little bit, and we were winning and in the playoffs. As a result, we went to Miami that year and got beat the heck up," he said. I think that's something people will look at. We already are struggling to get wins and we don't need to try to get someone else back."
But McGee did have one player defending him. Nick Young was diplomatic, but he sided with McGee in this dispute.
"To me, I don't know. I think you're supposed to have fun. If you're having fun, you play well, you play better. I know that's the type of person JaVale is," Young said. "If he can't be that occasionally, he might go back to the old ways. I see a change and he's playing great, so I want to keep his head right and keep him on the same page."
"I understand where coach is coming from too. I don't want to get in the middle," Young continued. "But I've been through the trenches with JaVale and Coach Saunders, and I want JaVale to keep his head. I don't want him to get down."
Regardless of where one stands on the issue, the bottom line is that coach and player clearly were at odds. That's what makes this Evans quote especially amusing.
"But that's something JaVale recognized and understood once he did it and in the locker room," he said.