The head coach’s wallet is $20,000 lighter after he was fined for cursing his team’s effort on defense — after the second game of the season. The reluctant starting center, who spent all summer resting to get healthy, barely survived one game without being sidelined with a leg ailment.
The point guard who has been locked up with an $80 million extension has already experienced a flare-up of back spasms. The promising shooting guard has a player efficiency rating that’s less than the number of fingers on his off-target shooting hand. And the starting power forward has a jammed index finger on his left shooting hand so gruesome it caused viewers to look away from their television screens.
So, no, the Washington Wizards haven’t started the season the way that they would have liked. For the third straight year — and the fifth time in the past seven seasons — the Wizards are 0-3 and have an unforgiving schedule ahead, with the next five games against the surprising Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday followed by playoff contenders in Brooklyn, Oklahoma City, Dallas and San Antonio.
“We need a win,” Wizards forward Trevor Ariza said. “Doesn’t matter what part of the season it is, you have to win. That’s the approach I try to take. That’s the approach I feel we all have — or if we don’t we need to get soon — because losing is not fun. Last year, we lost a lot and I think it’s time for a change. Losing is not fun by any means. Whatever it takes to get a win, we’ve got to do it.”
Stumbling out of the gate has been an annual tradition for the Wizards. In the 10 seasons since Ernie Grunfeld took over as general manager, the Wizards have had a winning record after three games only three times. Even in their most recent playoff season, in 2007-08, the team started 0-5 before going on to finish the regular season 43-39.
“There is still a lot of things we can improve on, and we will improve on, it’s early in the season,” second-year shooting guard Bradley Beal said. “We still got a lot of strides to make. We’ve got more than enough time to do it.”
Beal is third on the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game but he has gotten off to a rough start shooting. He has missed 34 of his 50 field goal attempts and leads the team with 13 turnovers, which has resulted in a personal efficiency rating of 3.7, nearly 11 points below the league average. Teams have crowded the 20-year-old Beal and gotten physical with him, but he’s confident that he can adjust.
“What frustrates me is the fact that I can’t get the shot that I necessarily want,” Beal said. “It’s a sign of respect. But it’s a sign that I need to learn to move without the ball more and find my teammates as well. I was moving to the open spots and just shooting with confidence.”
The NBA fined Wittman on Monday for using coarse language on Friday to explain that the Wizards lost their first two games because of a failure to commit on defense. The Wizards entered Monday’s games ranked last in the NBA in opponent’s field goal percentage (51.2) and 29th in points allowed per game (108.3).
But after the Wizards allowed the two-time defending champion Miami Heat to shoot 52.9 percent from the field during a 103-93 loss on Sunday, Wittman praised his players for sticking to his defensive principles. The Wizards held Miami to 36 points in the paint after surrendering 130 in the first two games.
LeBron James “hit three threes, one a step-back. I would rather have him taking that shot than taking us to the basket,” Wittman said. “They made some shots. Sometimes you got to tip your hat to the other team. I don’t think it was so much our defense. We got them to take perimeter shots and kept them out of the paint and they knocked them down. That’s going to happen.”
Injuries, too are going to happen and they have already cost Nene two games after he strained his left calf in the season opener against Detroit. When the pain spread to his Achilles’ tendon, Nene decided that he should get an MRI exam to make sure the injury isn’t too serious. He has been an almost indispensable piece for the Wizards since he arrived from Denver in a 2012 trade, with the team going 7-30 when he is unable to play.
Forward Trevor Booker said his injured finger, which bent back awkwardly in Miami, is “fine.” John Wall hasn’t missed any time because of his back problems but he recently accepted responsibility for the franchise’s latest slow start.
“It starts with me. I’m the head of the snake on defense and offense,” said Wall, who leads the team with 19 points and 8.7 assists per game. “We know what we’ve got to do. It’s play defense. That’s what our team is. We ain’t playing no defense and that’s why we can’t win no games.”