By Michael Lee
The Washington Post
2:49 AM EST, January 14, 2012
Upon their arrival on Thursday the Washington Wizards held a team dinner at a Japanese steakhouse. The team-building exercise was intended to break up the monotony and division that naturally comes with being on a losing team.
"When you do things like that, go out to eat, do different things together, it builds a bond, and a relationship to make you want to play with each other on the court, and play hard for each other," Rashard Lewis said a day later.
Whatever happened over the course of eating prime cuts of beef was lost the moment the Wizards set foot on the floor Friday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, as they suffered perhaps their most embarrassing defeat of the season, 120-89, at Wells Fargo Center.
The Wizards were walloped by the Atlantic Division-leading 76ers, trailed by 34 points in the third quarter, and only looked like a competent team when coach Flip Saunders benched all his starters for the entire fourth quarter.
"They do what they supposed to do, and that's why they made the playoffs, and that's why they leading their division, and that's why we're not leading our division and not winning games and not playing like other teams that winning games," said John Wall, who continued his lackluster play this season, scoring just seven points with five assists and five turnovers. "Everybody got to be on the same page, no matter what kind of lineup you have. If everybody's going to play selfish that's going to hurt you. You gotta play hard and you got to do it the right way."
Ball movement was replaced by Nick Young dribbling into a double-team, dribbling out, and shooting a contested jumper; or JaVale McGee shooting a left-handed jump hook that hit the bottom of the rim or an ill-advised long jumper after one pass. Help defense was a defensive breakdown that resulted in a member of the 76ers getting a wide-open three-pointer or mid-range jumper.
Philadelphia guard Jodie Meeks was the primary beneficiary, as he scored a game-high 26 points and connected on six of the team's 12 three-pointers. The 76ers had seven players score in double figures, had 27 assists and shot 55.3 percent from the field in a beautiful display of team basketball.
"They are a model of how we should be sharing the basketball," Washington's Roger Mason Jr. said. "They have fun playing together. They pass the basketball, and it's fun to play that way. It's not like … it's rocket science. Basketball is a team sport."
The Wizards (1-10) were without Andray Blatche for the second game in a row. He traveled to New York to have his sore right shoulder examined, then returned to Washington for further treatment. They set a franchise record for scoring futility without him in Chicago, scoring just 64 points. But they have had difficulty scoring even with him in the lineup.
And they didn't exactly have the best opponent to face while trying to break out offensively. Philadelphia is the league's stingiest defense and has won its first five home games by an average of 25.2 points.
The Wizards led 12-8 at the start, leading 76ers coach Doug Collins to call a timeout. His team went on to outscore the Wizards 25-11 the rest of the period and never had to worry about them making a serious run. The 76ers outscored the Wizards 38-18 in the third period, as they shot 69.6 percent and assisted on 11 of their 16 field goals. When Lou Williams gave the 76ers a 92-58 lead late in the third quarter, the Wizards faced their largest deficit of the season.
"Coming out of that third quarter, came with no energy at all. Kind of looked like we went through the motions," Lewis said after scoring a team-high 16 points. "You can say it over and over again. I guess you've got to beat it in their head. We got to play with each other. It's not a one-on-one game. It's five-on-five."
With reserves Jordan Crawford (12 points), Kevin Seraphin (12 points), Shelvin Mack and Mason on the floor, the Wizards pulled within 16 points with 4 minutes 24 seconds left in the game. But the 76ers wouldn't let up, as they continued to take three-pointers and push the lead back up.
The Wizards will host the 76ers at Verizon Center on Saturday, and Wall said that is probably a good thing for his team. "They put up a statement," he said of Philadelphia. "They kept shooting threes and kept making them. They wanted to stop you. Most teams get up that much, they lay down and let you come back. They were leaving a statement showing that they still . . . we got to play them tomorrow."
When asked about the effect of the team dinner, Lewis said, "It didn't translate tonight."