WASHINGTON, D.C. - The All-Star weekend was great for the Wizards. For a team without an All-Star, Washington was an integral part of the first two days of festivities.
There was John Wall dishing out 22 assists in the Rookie Challenge -- an event record. There was JaVale McGee's inspiring performance in the dunk contest, which he probably would have won had he not been frozen out by fan voting in an event Blake Griffin had claimed before it started. Or maybe McGee should have just incorporated a league sponsor, too.
It was a great showcase for the franchise. As Charles Barkley said on the TNT broadcast: "America don't know much about [JaVale McGee] because ain't no way in hell we're gonna show the Wizards." After the weekend, America still might not know much about Washington -- but Joe NBA Fan can at least name two players on the team.
But all the excitement made it easy to forget the actual basketball team. The one that is now 15-40 after losing to the Pacers 113-96 in its first action following the break. The one that headed into the vacation with a pair of 20+ point losses to San Antonio and Orlando, sandwiched around its first road win of the season in Cleveland.
Flip Saunders didn't forget. He was happy for McGee and Wall, but he didn't allow much praise without getting back to the games that count in the standings.
"It can go two ways," Saunders said of McGee's All-Star weekend. "What you hope happens, as we’ve said to him, is that 'People now know who you are, now do you want to be known as a guy that’s a dunk guy or do you want to be known as a guy that can play? So what you got to do now, take the publicity that you’ve gotten, but now come with substance as far as playing. Rebound the basketball, block shots inside, key the defense and do things like that. Now you’ll be known also not just as a guy that can jump and dunk but a guy that has some substance as far as playing.'"
Of course the reality Tuesday night was a something less. McGee did little of that, save the rebounding in his first game since the break. He pulled down eight boards against the Pacers, but did little else in limited minutes. McGee had four fouls and score just five points on 2-for-4 shooting, and barely got off the bench in the second half.
The effort prompted Saunders to assess, "He’s got to play against big centers and be a force and not just be in a situation where they either score or he fouls them."
This isn't just to single out McGee, though. No one on Washington showed up, besides maybe Andray Blatche, who did so only sporadically. The Wizards led in the first quarter, trailed in the second, and were dead by the third.
The Pacers went inside and attacked the rim. They shot 45 free throws -- 19 more than the Wizards. The game was in Washington. At this point, it's hard to understand how a team that has pinpointed a lack of effort as a primary problem could play so uninspired.
Tuesday night was a buzz kill.
All-Star weekend made it easy to be optimistic about the final portion of the Wizards season. Maybe that was owed in part to forgetfulness, but things were looking up. Now, if their first game back was any indication, it seems things could be getting worse.