No worries there. Knicks coach Larry Brown said he’s reached the point where he’s “begging guys to play,” and Steve Francis was on the verge of tears.
A game against the worst team in the East turned out to be the ideal homecoming for the Wizards, who got 13 points and a season-high 13 assists from Gilbert Arenas in a 105-90 rout Tuesday night.
“New York is a team that is not playing well, and we didn’t play down to their level,” Jordan said. “I thought we played very well, especially Gilbert, with how he got his teammates involved early. We played the right way.”
The Knicks lost their ninth straight, matched a season high with 28 turnovers, and are looking more and more comfortable in the role of a team that simply can’t wait for the season to end. They trailed by 11 after the first quarter and by 22 at halftime. The deficit reached 31 in the fourth quarter, and Jordan was able to sit all of his starters for the final 7:14 of the game.
“They came in with so much more energy, it was like the varsity against the JV,” Brown said. “You’ve got to keep trying. Somehow you’ve got to find five guys who care enough to compete. I hate to say that because you take away from (the Wizards players) and what they did, but you’ve got to hope you have enough pride to compete. I never in my life thought I’d be in a position where you’re begging guys to play.”
Brown juggled his lineup again, starting a league-high 42nd different unit this season. Francis opened at point guard, with Nate Robinson coming off the bench. Stephon Marbury, Jalen Rose and Jerome James sat out with injuries or illness.
Brown said he’s never been through a stretch this difficult as a coach, and Francis went even further.
“Besides my mom passing away when I was 18, this is top three, definitely, just because this is my livelihood,” Francis said. “Basketball is what I do. To be able to come out here and not being able to help this Knicks organization win is tough. I think a lot of the players don’t realize that you only have one basketball career and it doesn’t last as long as you think. The money might be there, but actually being out there on the court, that (stuff) doesn’t last. And until people realize that and realize that you have to help each other and not be so selfish and worry about how many points you score, we’re going to be stuck in the same position, same place.”
“It’s like a funeral, man,” Francis said, his eyes welling up. “That’s what it feels like.”
The victory, coupled with Milwaukee’s loss to Miami, moved the fifth-place Wizards 1 1/2 games ahead of the Bucks in the Eastern Conference. It was Washington’s first home game following a 3-3 West Coast road trip, and only three of the final nine are at the Verizon Center.
“The pregame speech was ‘The top four teams have clinched. We’re the next team in line,”’ Jordan said.
Jackie Butler scored a career-high 22 points for the Knicks, who had 16 turnovers at halftime—including two offensive 3-second violations in the first quarter.
“Just when I thought we couldn’t get any worse or go any lower, we find another way to do it,” said Quentin Richardson, who returned after missing five games with a sprained thumb.
The laugher was a good setting for the return of Wizards center Brendan Haywood. Haywood lost his starting job to Etan Thomas during the road trip, then missed three games with back spasms while stewing over his benching. He came off the bench to score nine points.
“Right now it’s not about me, it’s about the team,” Haywood said.
The Wizards dressed as the Baltimore Bullets and finally won a game in their throwbacks. They had been 0-5 wearing the 1970s-era blue-and-orange this season. … The Wizards went 3-1 against the Knicks, taking the season series for the first time since 2001-02. … Marbury missed his second straight game with a strained knee tendon, while Jalen Rose sat out his second straight with plantar fasciitis in his left foot and a sore right knee. James was the new entry on the injured list: He was out with an upper respiratory infection. … Two Knicks received technical fouls for jawing with the refs, Maurice Taylor in the second quarter and Crawford in the fourth.