The Washington Wizards had the perfect opportunity for a first victory, facing a struggling and tired Utah Jazz team ready to go home after nearly a week on the road.
Instead, the night ended with another demoralizing loss that turned awkward and surreal in the final minute – when the home crowd started cheering wildly for a chicken sandwich giveaway.
The Jazz pulled away in the fourth quarter and capped a four-game road trip with an 83-76 win Saturday, making the Wizards only the second team in NBA history to start 0-8 in back-to-back seasons.
”It’s tough,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said. ”I don’t know how else to put it.”
Al Jefferson scored 21 points, Gordon Hayward added 15 in his first game as a reserve this season, and the Jazz put on a sloppy performance that included 19 turnovers – and got away with it because they were playing the Wizards.
”We didn’t play our best basketball,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. ”But it’s good to see the guys gut it out there when things weren’t going particularly well for us.”
The game was tied at 65 early in the fourth when the Wizards went cold, shooting only 4 for 19 from the field in the final period. The Jazz held Washington scoreless for more than 4 minutes while building their first double-digit lead of the game. Utah had nine offensive rebounds in the quarter.
Then, in the final minute, the marketing atmosphere of the NBA game experience hit a new low when the fans roared because Marvin Williams missed two free throws to guarantee everyone a free chicken sandwich – even as Utah’s Paul Millsap was grabbing the offensive rebound to help put the game out of reach.
”You kind of notice it, but the fans pay their money,” Millsap said. ”They didn’t get a win; at least they got some sandwiches.”
Fed up with recent slow starts, both coaches shuffled their lineups with two new starters. Corbin went with Randy Foye and Derrick Favors instead of Hayward and Williams, hoping Hayward would get more shots with the second unit.
The strategy had mixed results. The Jazz again started slowly – looking like a team that couldn’t wait to get on the plane. They missed nine of their first 10 shots to trail 15-2 midway through the first quarter. Players said they were adjusting to the new lineup.
But Hayward and Williams came in and provided a spark, with Hayward scoring six points in a quarter-ending 13-2 spurt. The game then stayed close into the fourth quarter, with Jefferson asserting himself along the way with 17 of Utah’s 27 third-quarter points.
Corbin said he’s not sure whether he’ll stick with the new starting five for another game.
”I didn’t feel too comfortable with it,” Millsap said. ”It was tough, especially starting out. … Nothing worked at the beginning of the game, but when we’re clicking, when everything is flowing, that’s a pretty good starting lineup.”
Wittman made his first lineup change of the season, with Jordan Crawford and Jan Vesely on the floor at tipoff instead of Trevor Booker and rookie Bradley Beal. The Wizards have yet to play this season with John Wall (knee) or Nene (foot), although Nene has resumed practicing with the team.
”That’s not an excuse,” Wittman said. ”We’ve got enough here to win games, and we do – and we’ve got to believe that. I’ve got to help them believe in themselves right now. We’re low on confidence right now from an offensive standpoint.”
The changes didn’t alter the final result for the Wizards, who remain overmatched and inconsistent as the only winless team in the NBA. The Jazz entered the game 1-6 on the road and were playing the second half of a back-to-back following a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, but Washington was outrebounded 60-44, outhustled too often, and again couldn’t get to the free-throw line nearly enough. Utah also took 27 free throws to Washington’s 12.
And, no, not all of the Wizards fans were cheering for sandwiches at the end. There weren’t that many left in the arena. Most had already departed after booing their team.
”It’s acceptable,” Crawford said. ”We are 0-8.”
NOTES: Crawford scored 20 points to lead the Wizards. … The teams combined for the same number of turnovers as made baskets (12) in the first quarter. … The Memphis Grizzlies are the only other franchise with back-to-back 0-8 starts, accomplishing the dubious feat in 2001-02 and 2002-03, according to STATS, LLC. … Shaun Livingston, signed on Thursday, made his Wizards season debut, scoring four points in 17 minutes.