Wizards 97, 76ers 76
A team fighting for first place late in the season is routed by a lottery-bound team led by a player on a 10-day contract. And, just for good measure, let's say the lottery team finishes the game short-handed because two starters come down with the very same injury.
That sounds almost as preposterous as the Washington Wizards losing to the Kentucky Wildcats.
While the world will never know for sure whether the Wizards could handle the Final Four school, they certainly had no problem making the Philadelphia 76ers look a bit amateurish Friday night. Washington took a double-digit lead early in the second quarter and never let up in a 97-76 victory.
''For whatever reason, we weren't ready,'' Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said. ''You get down and you think you're going to turn on some switch or whatever, and those guys knocked us around. They deserved to beat us like they did tonight. It wasn't even a game.''
The loss, combined with Boston's 100-79 win over Minnesota, knocked Philadelphia out of the top spot in the Atlantic Division and all the way down to seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The 76ers had been in first in their division - either alone or tied - since Dec. 28, but they've now lost six of nine and are struggling to score.
Philadelphia had only 36 points - including just two fast-break points - at halftime against Washington and were simply outhustled throughout. The Wizards outrebounded the 76ers 52-38 for the game.
''It was little stuff like them getting to the 50-50 balls, making shots and making us pay,'' said Evan Turner, who scored 11 points and was the only starter in double figures. ''They played well; we couldn't stop the bleeding.''
The Wizards had lost five straight, and former Maryland coach Gary Williams was thinking aloud on the radio this week when he came up with a scenario under which Washington could perhaps lose a one-off game at Rupp Arena. The story grew legs, even though Wildcats coach John Calipari tried to stop the debate in its tracks by saying: ''This team could not beat one NBA team. Not one. The worst team in the league we could not beat.''
Washington point guard John Wall, himself a one-and-done product of Kentucky, was in a good position to express a similar opinion after Friday's win.
''Oh, man, that's a joke,'' Wall said. ''The Wildcats are a great team - I hope they win the national championship - but you can't believe what everybody says.''
Still, the Wizards were far from conventional against a team that had beaten them badly three times already this year. Their top scorer was Cartier Martin, who tied a career high with 20 points in his second game under a 10-day contract. Trevor Booker left in the first period with a pulled ligament in his left foot, and Nene scored 16 points before leaving in the fourth quarter - also with a pulled ligament in his left foot. Both will be reevaluated Saturday.
''It's all about pain threshold,'' coach Randy Wittman said when asked whether either would play Sunday against Toronto.
Martin played 52 games for the Wizards last season, then played 30 games with a team in China during the lockout before joining the Iowa Energy of the NBA's D-League. He rejoined the Wizards on Wednesday and found that many familiar faces were no longer around, including coach Flip Saunders and traded regulars JaVale McGee and Nick Young.
Yet Martin was a scoring machine Friday, making four of seven 3-pointers.
''They go over a few things with me before I go onto the floor and let me know what I need to be doing,'' Martin said. ''So I have an idea, but at the end of the day, it's basketball.''
The Wizards had blown double-digit leads in their last three home loses, but they have been playing better defense lately. This was the eighth straight game in which the opponent failed to crack 100 points - the franchise's longest such streak since 2003.
''Maybe this is a game we need to have that ice broken,'' Wittman said. ''That was spectacular by our guys tonight.''
The Wizards led by eight after the first period, by 19 at halftime and by 17 after three. A 76ers run seemed inevitable given what had transpired recently at the Verizon Center, but Philadelphia never got closer than 13 in the second half. When the 76ers scored four straight to make the score 81-68 early in the fourth, Martin responded with a 3-pointer.
''We talked about it at halftime,'' Crawford said. ''(Coach) said, `Step on their throats,' and that's what we wanted to do.''
Notes: The 76ers say C Spencer Hawes has had his restrictions lifted following his return from an Achilles injury. Hawes had been limited in his playing time in recent games, and he played only 17 minutes Friday night. ... Collins doesn't hide the fact that he's scoreboard-watching this time of year: ''We all like to say, `Let's just take care of our business,' but it's like looking in our neighbor's window.''
Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP