x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Win over Kings reveals Washington Wizards’ lofty ambitions

Washington scratched back to .500 on Sunday by beating Sacramento, but coach Randy Wittman said afterward, 'I don't want them to be satisfied ... We're better than .500'.

Marcin Gortat and the Washington Wizards are 25-25, good for fifth in the Eastern Conference. Rob Carr / Getty Images / AFP
Marcin Gortat and the Washington Wizards are 25-25, good for fifth in the Eastern Conference. Rob Carr / Getty Images / AFP

WASHINGTON, United States // Washington coach Randy Wittman isn’t content with getting back to .500 and doesn’t want the Wizards to be either.

At 25-25, Washington are on track for their first play-off berth in six years. After an uninspiring 93-84 win over the Sacramento Kings, however, Wittman made it clear he expects more.

“I don’t want them to be satisfied,” Wittman said. “We’re back to .500. We’re better than .500. I want them to believe that. They believe that.”

Over their last 14 games, Washington have been within a game of .500. Their flirtation with a winning record has been a source of ridicule. Quality wins over Miami, Oklahoma City and at Golden State were countered by home losses to Detroit, Boston and Cleveland.

As Washington frittered away most of a 17-point lead against Sacramento, Sunday’s game bore some of the earmarks of those unfocused defeats.

“I won’t accept the way we played,” Martell Webster said. “We should have won by 30 points.”

There were some positives for Washington. Bradley Beal scored 16 points, hitting two three-pointers in the final 6 minutes. Marcin Gortat added 17 points and eight rebounds.

Nene scored 18 points and led a strong defensive effort, limiting DeMarcus Cousins to 14 points on 3-of-16 shooting. On a key sequence in the fourth quarter, Nene made a jumper, then followed with a block of Cousins.

Nene took little credit for shutting down the NBA’s ninth-leading scorer.

“You know his average,” Nene said. “We did our job.”

The Kings outrebounded the Wizards 49-38, but made only 35.4 per cent of their field goal tries, went 2-of-11 from three-point range, and committed 18 turnovers leading to 26 Washington points.

“That was not an offensive performance we were hoping for,” Sacramento coach Michael Malone said. “Very hard to win on the road when you turn the ball over that many times. We talked about it going in that this is a team that does a great job turning their opponents over and scoring.”

Sacramento’s Isaiah Thomas scored 30 points and had eight assists, but he had little help. Rudy Gay, one of three Kings who averages more than 20 points per game, had five points, hitting 2-of-11 shots.

Rookie Ben McLemore scored nine of his 11 points in the second half, helping the Kings reduce the 17-point deficit to four. But Beal answered with three-pointers from the same spot in the left corner to steady the Wizards.

“We wish we could have had at least 10 more wins, but at the end of the day, we really can’t complain where we are at,” Beal said. “We’re in a solid position play-off-wise, but we still have a lot of moves to make.”

Washington took command in the first half with a lift from their reserves. After Webster hit a three-pointer, Kevin Seraphin made hook shots to close and open the quarters and added a jumper. When Garrett Temple retrieved a loose ball and scored a transition three-point-play, the Wizards had a 39-26 lead.

Washington’s lead swelled to 17 points in the third quarter, but Sacramento went on a 14-2 run that bridged the quarters, the surge touched off by Quincy Acy, who scored on a put-back slam.

It wasn’t the resounding win the Wizards were looking for. Afterward they faced another round of questions about a sore subject – their .500 mark.

“I don’t want to answer that. I don’t care about .500,” Nene said. “We need everything we can. That’s the mentality. If you’re going to think small like that, it’s fine, just stop right there. If you want to go for the gold, the championship, make the team better, you need to think forward.”

OTHER SUNDAY RESULTS

Magic 93, Pacers 92

Rookie guard Victor Oladipo scored 23 points and sparked a fourth-quarter turnaround, leading the Orlando Magic to a 93-92 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers.

The Magic (16-37) erased a 17-point, third-quarter deficit in beating the Pacers, who have the best record in the NBA.

On Friday, Orlando also came from 17 points down to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have the best record in the Western Conference.

Indiana forward Paul George scored a game-high 27 points, but he missed a jumper in the final seconds that could have won the game.

Guard Lance Stephenson had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Pacers (39-11).

Thunder 112, Knicks 100

Kevin Durant posted 41 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to victory over the New York Knicks.

Durant came up one assist shy of his third triple-double this season.

The Knicks (20-31) trailed by just eight entering the third quarter but Oklahoma City (41-12) pulled away as Durant and forward Serge Ibaka helped push the lead to 15 with three minutes left in the contest.

Raymond Felton paced New York with 16 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.

Carmelo Anthony, the league’s second-leading scorer, was held to 15 points on 5-of-19 shooting.

Clippers 123, 76ers 78

Point guard Chris Paul returned from injury and the Los Angeles Clippers crushed the Philadelphia 76ers.

Paul, who missed the previous 18 games with a separated right shoulder, scored seven points, handed out eight assists and recorded four steals in 23 minutes.

Blake Griffin, who played 25 minutes and was not needed in the fourth quarter, led Los Angeles with 26 points and added 11 rebounds and six assists as the Pacific Division-leading Clippers (36-18) beat the 76ers (15-37) for the fifth consecutive time.

Bulls 92, Lakers 86

The Chicago Bulls handed the Los Angeles Lakers their fifth consecutive home loss in a defeat that saw Steve Nash once again succumb to injury.

Kirk Hinrich led the Bulls (25-25) with 19 points, while centre Joakim Noah and forward Taj Gibson scored 18 apiece

Nash, who has been ailing with back and leg problems that have limited him to just nine games this season, left the contest in the third quarter with a leg injury and did not return.

He had been out since November before returning to the Lakers (18-33) to play against the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 4.

Nets 93, Pelicans 81

Mason Plumlee scored a career-high 22 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to help spark the Brooklyn Nets to victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

The forward/centre wound up recording his second career double-double in just 28 minutes of action for the Nets (23-26).

Pelicans forward Anthony Davis had a game-high 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting, and he grabbed nine rebounds for New Orleans (22-28).

Mavericks 102, Celtics 91

Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs cruised to their fifth straight victory as they knocked off the Boston Celtics.

Dallas (31-21) moved into a virtual sixth-place tie with the idle Phoenix Suns, a half-game ahead of the also-idle Golden State Warriors.

Nowitzki scored 20 points and added five rebounds and four assists.

Boston fell to 18-34.

Cavaliers 91, Grizzlies 83 (overtime)

Kyrie Irving fired in a game-high 28 points and the Cleveland Cavaliers earned an overtime victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Irving sealed the Cavaliers’ second consecutive win with four free throws in the last 30 seconds.

Cleveland (18-33) outscored the Grizzlies 13-5 in overtime while improving to 5-2 in overtime this season. The Grizzlies (27-23) dropped to 2-2 in overtime games.

Guard Nick Calathes had a team-high 17 points and six assists for the Grizzlies.