Contrary to popular belief, the Wizards are not really a young team. Seven of Coach Randy Wittman’s top nine or 10 rotation players are older than 25, including five older than 30 with the return of Nene. But the two prominent faces of the franchise – the players expected to lead the team to new heights – are both younger than 24 and have never played meaningful games in April.
John Wall and Bradley Beal are both learning about the intensity and challenges of battling for postseason position and Wednesday’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats was a struggle for the duo. Wall, the first-time all-star, and Beal, an invite for Team USA tryouts this summer, combined to miss 23 of 33 shots in the Wizards’ 94-88 overtime loss and Wittman didn’t hold back when asked to critique their performances.
“When you don’t put effort in, you’re not going to have good showings. It just filters down,” Wittman said. “You can’t play with no energy or effort at one end of the floor and expect to turn it on at the other end of the floor. It doesn’t work that way. That’s been proven with these guys. It was almost like we were spinning our wheels in mud. We just didn’t come out with any enthusiasm. I don’t even know if they had a sweat broken at the jump ball.”
The Wizards (40-38) have lost three of five, with two of those losses coming against Charlotte. Wall has had difficulty playing effectively against the Bobcats. He had a triple double with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, but it felt emptier than his previous triple double in an overtime loss against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 22, when he had 28 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
In four games against the Bobcats, Wall averaged just 16 points on 36 percent shooting. Indiana is the only other Eastern Conference team to hold Wall to a lower scoring average (13.7) and field goal percentage (34) this season. The loss to Charlotte put Wall and the Wizards on a possible collision course with the Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. The Pacers hold a half-game lead over the Miami Heat for the top seed heading into a critical matchup on Friday.
“Nothing really,” Wall said, when asked what the Bobcats do to slow him down. “They just tried to trap me and get the ball out my hands so when I get the opportunity, you got to make your shots when you take them. I missed a couple in the fourth quarter, I made a couple to get myself going and kind of get us back into the game.”
Wall scored nine points in the second half when the Wizards completed a comeback from a 20-point deficit, and accounted for the Wizards only point in overtime, but Beal could never get going. He made a jumper that gave the Wizards’ their first lead of the game, 78-77, in the fourth quarter but missed his final five attempts, including all four in overtime. He wouldn’t use fatigue as an excuse.
“We can’t feed into that mindset at this point and time,” said Beal, who scored just eight points while missing 11 of 15 shots. “We got to fight through it, be mentally tough and battle it out. I don’t know what happened. But moving forward, we can’t have that mindset. They were playing harder than us and they hit us first and we didn’t hit back in the first half. That’s what definitely hurt us. We can’t get down to such large deficits and expect to come back like that.”
A flustered Wittman could only shake his head after the Wizards allowed another team to walk into Verizon Center and take over in the first half. The Wizards allowed Chicago to build a 28-point lead in the second quarter last Saturday and quickly fell into a 23-10 hole in the first quarter. Wittman said that before the game, he thought he was going to need to call a timeout to get his team to calm down. Instead, he needed a quick timeout to wake up his team.
“That whole first half was a total disappointment,” Wittman said. “To have no more energy or drive or enthusiasm than we showed in that first half, disappointing. Again, this is just another, we’ve done it so many times, then come out and play the exact opposite. I don’t know why that is, but somehow, I got to figure that out. To play only one half like that, disappointing.”
Marcin Gortat has used a similar refrain after nearly every loss, lamenting the Wizards’ inability to either get out to good starts or close properly. For whatever reason, the team can’t consistently provide an honest, 48-minute effort.
“I guess we are immature and just not experienced enough,” Gortat said after scoring 27 points with 14 rebounds. “Everything starts in practice. The first few minutes we walked in and just fooling around. This is how you start games, I guess. I don’t know. It’s frustrating.”
Wall tried to play down any concerns about the team not performing well heading into the postseason.
“We know how to play and we know what we got to do,” Wall said.