“This isn’t fun,” Wittman said. “You don’t sleep very good. You don’t eat very good. The bowl of pasta doesn’t taste worth [fertilizer] right now.”
The Wizards are only the second NBA team to open back-to-back seasons with at least eight straight losses and they will need to defeat the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday to avoid becoming the 13th team to lose its first 10 games.
The New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets set the NBA record for consecutive losses to open a season in 2009-10, when they lost 18 in a row. The Wizards have never lost more than 16 consecutive games but will play their next eight games against teams that with .500 records or better.
“You guys are going to think I’m crazy, but we don’t need a Herculean effort,” said Wittman, who lost 13 games in a row in his final season in Minnesota, in 2008-09. “I believe. I really do. This group should be winning games. We should be — without John [Wall] and Nene. We’ve got to get them to believe that themselves. That’s my job.”
Wittman currently has the worst career winning percentage of any coach with at least 350 games (.323, 118-247). His first full season with the Wizards has started out to be far more challenging than the end of last season, when he took over for Flip Saunders and the team won its final six games and eight of 10 overall. The strong finish helped Wittman get endorsements from Wall and Nene — and a two-year deal from owner Ted Leonsis.
But the rough start is in line with his struggles in previous stops in Cleveland (where Shawn Kemp was out of shape and Zydrunas Ilgauskas was always hurt) and Minnesota (where the Timberwolves started the rebuilding process after trading Kevin Garnett).
This season, Wittman has had the disadvantage of not having the services of his two best players and trying to get players who had marginal roles last season to suddenly become leading characters.
The Wizards have been competitive in nearly every game except a lopsided loss in Charlotte, but only because different collections of players perform well on varying nights.
“He has a tough job. He’s trying to find a way to find wins,” center Emeka Okafor said of Wittman. “He’s doing what he can, like we all are. It’s a difficult position. when you’re 0-9, you’re trying to find a way, but it’s difficult.”
Nene has started practicing and is closer to returning after being out since August with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. After Tuesday’s practices, Wall playfully attempted to guard Nene as he attempted jump hooks with both hands.
The Wizards were 7-4 when Nene played last season, but Nene stated earlier this week that he and Wall would not be “the miracle” whenever one or both return. Wittman has decided to focus instead on the 13 players that he has available and hopes that they will do the same.