If not for the highlights provided by Rubio and Love as they led Minnesota to a dominating 93-72 victory in Washington, the paying fans would not have gotten their money’s worth at all.
Everything about Washington’s performance Sunday was half-hearted – at best. During pregame introductions, the players barely left their feet – hardly even acknowledged one another – with ho-hum jumping side bumps. The unfamiliarity and poor posture carried over to the court too. Radio personality and home game hype man Tigger asked fans to stand until the Wizards scored their first basket; the players left them standing for three and a half minutes before an Andray Blatche jumper finally dropped through to put Washington on the board.
Minnesota was equally out of tune to start the game, but just when it looked like the game would be a sloppy affair won by the team with the most points off turnovers, the Timberwolves gained their footing and schooled the Wizards on the benefits of ball movement and selfless play.
The Wizards built a lead as high as four points before Rick Adelman subbed in Rubio for starter Luke Ridnour to help change the pace of the game. Rubio connected on a long jumper to pull Minnesota to within two points and then sparked the Wolves on a run from the closing seconds of the first quarter until the final horn sounded. Washington never got back within three points of Minnesota from that point.
“Disappointment, embarrassment, I don’t know if words can explain,” Wizards head coach Flip Saunders said after watching his team hand a game to an opponent they should have been able to beat.
Washington shot just 34 percent from the floor, a pitiful 56 percent from the free throw line, and connected on just three attempts out of ten from three-point range. Again, when faced with a little adversity, the Wizards stopped trusting one another, stopped moving the ball, and settled into a series of one-on-one, or worse, one-on-five matchups they couldn’t win.
Washington finished with just one assist more (15) than Rubio tallied alone (14, a new career high). In all, the Wolves had 22. Even with their second leading scorer, local product Michael Beasley, still in Minnesota, the Wolves’ offense clicked with Rubio running the show. Rubio picked apart the Wizards defense with pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situations with Kevin Love.
It wasn’t just the two-man game working for the Wolves though. Often it was the third or fourth pass that found the open shooter as Minnesota exposed Washington defensively time and time again.
The injection of Chris Singleton into Washington’s starting lineup after a late scratch for Rashard Lewis (knee), figured to provide the Wizards with a spark. Singleton was coming off a solid performance against New York when his defensive activity and timely shooting helped to raise the level of play. Singleton had his moments, but finished with an uneven performance converting just one of his 8 attempts from the field.
Rookie Jan Vesely elevates for a dunk to score his first NBA points. Minnesota defeated Washington 93-72 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, January 8, 2012. Alan P. Santos/DC Sports Box
Coming off his best game of the season, John Wall shot 30 percent from the field to finish with just ten points. With the team struggling to convert and the Wolves doing an excellent job defending Washington’s every-man-for-himself offense, Wall didn’t make much of an impact as a distributor either. Wall finished with six assists, but also turned the ball over four times.
Wall’s performance, as unspectacular as it was, was easily the best among Washington’s starters. Andray Blatche and Nick Young combined to shoot 11-for-32 from the field. JaVale McGee played ok basketball (eight points, nine rebounds, three blocks, one steal) but didn’t make a true and sustained impact on either end of the court.
Saunders pointed to the poor play from his frontcourt “bigs” as a huge culprit for the defensive breakdowns, but credited the backcourt, especially Wall, for doing a good job of staying with his man and forcing the issue.
If there was a bright spot for Washington, it was the passionate play of Trevor Booker. Booker saw extended time for the second straight game, playing 28 and a half ultra effective minutes. Booker finished with 14 points (matching Nick Young for a team high) on seven-for-nine shooting and did good work on the offensive glass, where he claimed four of his five rebounds.
“We are trying to find out what we can do to get them going. I thought Trevor Booker played with passion and played hard. We have to get everybody playing like that,” Saunders said.
The nearly 14,000 in attendance had only two reactions to the lack of effort – stunned silence and voracious booing. The boos started early in the second half with fans voicing their displeasure with shot selection, defensive effort, the lack of offensive execution and, apparently, the mere sight of Andray Blatche doing anything on the basketball court at all. The only pause in the discontent was to cheer for Booker as he checked out of the game late in the fourth quarter.
Even through a (new franchise high) 0-8 start, the fans have continued to be supportive, but immediately following the game, the talk radio airwaves and Internet message boards were ablaze with folks calling heads to roll. The patience appears to be wearing thin. An Internet search produced results for one online ticket broker with tickets to Washington’s next home game, Tuesday versus the Raptors, as low as $2.49.
Here’s to hoping the eventual buyers of those tickets manage to get value out of their investment that the paying public from today didn’t feel they received.
Saunders and his staff have done all they can to make sure their team is prepared, saying the staff gives out more film and scouting information on players and teams than any other team in the league – an assessment verified later by Blatche – and said the players have to want to get better by using their time wisely and studying the resources provided.
For his part, Saunders says he has some thinking to do.
"My job over the next few days is trying to find five guys who can play the right way and five guys who can play with some heart," he said.
A job that’s, apparently, much easier said than done.