Remember when the Wizards ended last season on a six-game winning streak? When they spoiled Milwaukee’s playoff hopes? Or when they first saw the potential of the John Wall-Nene pick-and-roll in the closing seconds of a win in Miami?
That probably feels like seven years ago as opposed to just seven months. Wall and Nene are sidelined and the Wizards are back to their familiar routine of stumbling and falling face first out of the blocks.
They are 0-5 for the fourth time in the past six seasons — and the previous four all ended with them winning no more than 26 games. With a back-to-back set in Charlotte — a team they beat four times last season — and Dallas, the Wizards are eager to join the land of the victorious.
“Yeah, we’ve been ready,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Now we got to do it.”
The Wizards lost five in a row to start the 2007-08 campaign, reeled off six straight wins but lost Gilbert Arenas to a knee injury along the way and still managed to make the playoffs with Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler leading the way. They opened the 2008-09 season without Arenas and Brendan Haywood and lost their first five, beat Utah, then lost the next five before Eddie Jordan got fired. Last year, they set a franchise record with eight consecutive losses and Flip Saunders was fired after going 2-15.
Wittman doesn’t appear to be under the same pressure just yet, as he continues to create an identity for a team with so many young and new pieces still learning their roles.
”Randy is very patient. He’s doing an excellent job. He’s not deviating from what he does,” center Emeka Okafor said. “The whole coaching staff has been doing a great job of teaching. We have a very young team so they reiterate a lot of things, they go over just basic principles, and he’s doing a good job just keeping things uplifting, saying, ‘I know I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but we’re almost there.’ “
The Wizards have had their opportunities in each of the past four games. They led the Celtics by two at home in the final three minutes but went without a field goal for the rest of an 89-86 loss. With a chance to get payback four days later, they fumbled scoring opportunities and still forced overtime, only to collapse in the extra frame, 100-94.
After tying the score at 72 late in the third quarter last Friday against Milwaukee, they were stuck on that number for 5½ minutes and the Bucks scored 13 straight points before winning 101-91. The Wizards took a 75-70 lead in Indiana and allowed the Pacers to score 10 unanswered points over the next five minutes before losing 89-85.
“Kind of frustrating, but at the same time, you can’t get upset because we’re competing and battling every game,” rookie Bradley Beal said. ” You always hear, ‘At least you guys competed. At least you guys did this, you did that.’ But it’s going to come a point in time when we can’t just settle for that. We have to get wins.”
Jordan Crawford said complacency has contributed to the Wizards going through some extended scoring droughts. He hopes his teammates can move beyond recording moral victories, even with the Wizards missing two of their most important players.
“We supposed to be in the game. We a good enough team but we need to buckle down for all 48 minutes,” Crawford said. “Sometimes, we’ll be satisfied with the lead in the fourth or something like that. That’s when we have a mental lapse or something. We supposed to be in every game.”
The Wizards have been outscored by a total of 33 points in their first five games — and that includes 10-point defeats to Cleveland and Milwaukee. Their point differential (-6.6 points) is actually better that two teams with wins this season – Phoenix and Charlotte.
”It’s tough, but I’d much rather lose by three than 30,” Okafor said. “When you can leave and know that you’re one or two or three plays away from a win, in your mind it’s not as big of an adjustment to going in and getting blown out every night. It’s just okay, ‘Something is off, you just have to tweak the right things versus a complete overhaul.’ ”
In their first three games, the Wizards got quality production from the bench but couldn’t get the starters to click. In their past two games, the starters have been better but the bench hasn’t performed as well. Wittman is still waiting to get all of the pieces functioning at the same time.
“It we ever get to that point we’re going to be pretty good,” Wittman said. “We haven’t quite reached it. Again, it’s hard sometimes. I want to be patient with the groups to let them learn, but then it comes a point to, so we got to see that growth, too.”