But that win hasn’t created much currency in the season turnaround department for the Wizards, who have followed up that performance with two more losses. They now have the same record they had last season, when owner Ted Leonsis and team President Ernie Grunfeld determined that Flip Saunders needed to be dismissed after losing 15 of his first 17 games.
The situations are different, with Wittman combating the absence of John Wall, a limited Nene and a remaining roster of duplicate and ill-fitting parts, while Saunders had to contend with an underperforming and unfocused crew that had simply stopped responding.
Still, after purging many of the elements that contributed to some miserable campaigns, the Wizards are right back where they were, with the likelihood that the situation will get worse before it improves. Three of the next four games are on the road, where the Wizards have lost eight in a row, and that includes a rematch on Saturday in Miami. The lone home game is against Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and the new-look Los Angeles Lakers.
“We got a lot of the season left. I’m still positive, still happy to be in this position,” leading scorer Jordan Crawford said after the Wizards lost to the Golden State Warriors, 101-97, on Saturday at Verizon Center.
Finding ways to stay “happy” through a season that already seems lost would appear to be a greater challenge than the Wizards have had trying to win close games — especially with their continued run of bad luck as it relates to injuries.
Already missing Wall and Trevor Booker, the Wizards have lost two starters in the past three games. Small forward Trevor Ariza, the team’s best perimeter defender, strained his left calf in the win over Miami and could miss at least three weeks. And point guard A.J. Price, a solid defender who has been one of the more upbeat players, broke his right hand in the first quarter against Golden State and will miss four to six weeks.
“The lineup is getting smaller and smaller,” rookie Bradley Beal said. “We have Trev out, Book still, John’s out and the list goes on, so we have to really step up and fight through it.”
The Wizards are 2-4 since Nene returned from a left foot injury, but he played just 45 minutes combined in his first back-to-back set over the weekend. Wittman said the Wizards would continue to monitor the minutes of the Brazilian big man, which will be imperative with the team set to play four games in five nights beginning on Tuesday in New Orleans.
Wall’s absence continues to cloud the entire season. The primary block of the stunted rebuilding effort, Wall has now been sidelined for 10 weeks from a stress injury in his left knee that the Wizards originally announced would keep him out “approximately” eight weeks.
Pressed for an update recently, Wittman acknowledged that the original diagnosis was eight to 12 weeks, but Wall still hasn’t been cleared for practice or full-contact workouts, which has raised more concerns about the severity of the injury, or if he experienced a setback.
“We’re not hiding anything here,” Wittman said recently. “Obviously, we need John. We want John. I want John yesterday, but you’ve got to keep moving forward. That’s what we’re doing here and trying to do here.”
Little has gone well for the Wizards, who continue to find creative ways to lose and are getting little production from players that they have needed to make a difference.
Emeka Okafor, the big offseason addition from New Orleans and the team’s highest-paid player, has been a disappointment aside from his game-winning free throws against Portland. He is averaging career lows in points (6.6) and rebounds (5.5), rarely plays down the stretch and saw 12 minutes against the Warriors after failing to grab a rebound.
Wittman now has no use for Jan Vesely, the sixth overall pick of the 2011 draft. Vesely has more fouls (34) than points (29) and has not appeared in any of the past three games. The team has no plans to send Vesely to the development league and Wittman said that he hasn’t given up on him.
“I want him to be ready every night,” Wittman said. “It can change at any minute. We’ve said that all year, with who I started and who’s played and who hasn’t played. He’s got to keep practicing hard and it’s going to come. It’s going to happen.”
But the Wizards’ patience continues to be tested through injuries and a difficult string of losses.
“We doing everything that’s keeping us from winning games. Simple mistakes,” Crawford said. “It don’t matter who is down, it’s always somebody who can step in that position and play for him.”