WASHINGTON - Timberwolves guard Luke Ridnour was sitting in front of his locker after Friday's game, head down, hands on his knees.
"This is tough," he said, shaking his head. "This stretch is really tough. We're just fading, and we have to try to stop this thing."
But how? After the Washington Wizards thrilled a far-below-capacity crowd at the Verizon Center with a stunning offensive display in a 114-101 victory, the question is how are the injury-riddled Wolves -- who have lost three straight and eight of nine -- going to stop the bleeding?
"We are going to see if we are a real good team," said Ricky Rubio, who had four points, six assists and five turnovers in 31 minutes. "We just have to improve, play more aggressive and try to win tomorrow."
It will take a quantum leap on defense.
The Wizards entered the game last in the league in scoring (90.9) and overall shooting (41.7 percent) and 25th in three-point shooting (33.9). Then they went out and shot 57.8 percent and went 8-for-17 on three-pointers, scoring the most points allowed by the Wolves this season. Six Washington players scored in double figures, including Jordan Crawford's 19 off the bench, 16 from Bradley Beal and 14 from John Wall.
To be fair, the Wizards, who won for the sixth time in nine games and the fourth consecutive time at home, are getting healthy. Wall, playing in his eighth game since returning from a knee injury, got his first start. And his dribble penetration helped get everything started for Washington.
The Wizards got into a rhythm early. Nine players scored in the first quarter, which ended with the hosts up 29-25. In the second quarter Wall's eight points helped the Wizards take control. With 4:05 left Chris Johnson hit two free throws to pull the Wolves within five, but Washington ended the half on a 13-4 run to take a 60-46 halftime lead. That lead grew to 23 two minutes into the fourth quarter.
"We came out pretty good," Wolves acting head coach Terry Porter said. "But they came out in a really good rhythm early. We had some transition breakdowns that really got them going, and they started making some shots. We couldn't make enough shots and couldn't do a good enough job defensively to limit their easy opportunities."
The Wolves shot 44.3 percent, but they hit only three of 14 three-point attempts. Derrick Williams had his second double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, and the Wolves got 17 points from Andrei Kirilenko and 14 from Ridnour. They outrebounded the Wizards 48-35, managing 22 offensive rebounds and 25 second-chance points. But the Wizards' ability to get open shots and hit them was the difference.
"We moved the ball tremendously," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "Players were moving. Everybody was touching it."
And the Wolves couldn't stop it.
"I am going to give them credit," Rubio said. "They make a lot of shots, and they shoot very well. But we should increase our defense."
The Wolves end this quick, two-games-in-two-nights road trip with a winnable game at Charlotte. It would be an excellent opportunity to bring something positive back to Minnesota. But to do that the Wolves have to bounce back from this difficult loss.
"It's about this team responding when we have some adversity," Porter said. "Obviously we've had a lot of it lately. But they've always responded with a great effort, and [Saturday] we're going to need a great effort."