Wizards concerned after two straight losses to open NBA season
By Michael Lee,
Two games represent a tiny fraction of an NBA season and might be too small a sample size to constitute a trend, but the early struggles of the Washington Wizards’ starting five – and newcomers Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal, in particular – are already a concern.
Through their first two defeats to Cleveland and Boston, the Wizards’ starters have created double-digit deficits and relied upon the bench to stage furious rallies just to make games competitive. As he watched his starting unit dig the team into a 15-point hole in the first quarter of an 89-86 loss to the Celtics on Saturday at Verizon Center, Coach Randy Wittman worried if he’d “ever see daylight again.”
Afterward, Wittman said he would have to consider making some changes before the team returns to action Wednesday in Boston.
“When you get off to starts like this, you do,” Wittman said. “We just got blitzed again at the start of the game.”
The lineup of Okafor, Ariza, Beal, Trevor Booker and A.J. Price started just two of the eight preseason games, and the players admitted that unfamiliarity has contributed to some of the early problems. But Price was unwilling to use that as an excuse for the starters missing 13 of 14 shots and failing to have a shot actually fall through the basket until Booker made a finger roll with five minutes left in the first quarter against Boston.
“I don’t really have an answer to why we’re not coming out with the sense of urgency. Right now, that’s the biggest thing,” Price said. “You can understand missing shots and things like that. That happens in games. You’re going to miss shots. But to look lethargic, like we did, is unacceptable.”
Okafor and Ariza, the Wizards’ huge, veteran offseason acquisitions, played with each other in New Orleans for the past two seasons but both are having difficult adjustment periods in Washington. Okafor, an efficient offensive player most of his career, has missed 11 of his 16 field goal attempts this season. Wittman has kept him on the bench in the fourth quarter of both games, opting for Earl Barron’s hustle and rebounding in Cleveland and Kevin Seraphin’s scoring ability against Boston.
“It’s all coach’s decision and whatever decision he makes, got to go with it,” Okafor, an eight-year veteran, said, while adding that the team has plenty of time to make corrections. “Again, it’s very early in the season. In an 82-game season, you’re not going to be on every single one of those games. Now, to make it a big deal out of two, I don’t think it’s fair. Since it’s the first two, everybody is paying attention, but I don’t think much needs to be made of it.”
Ariza had a rough time finding his way in the preseason and had a perplexing performance against Boston, missing all four of his shots and failing to score or grab a rebound. Sporting a shiner under his left eye after absorbing an elbow last week in practice, Ariza also was benched in the fourth quarter Saturday.
“Got to play through it,” Wittman said. “I’m sure a little bit of it is [mental] now. He’s just got to stay within, doing what he’s been doing. He’s a defender for us. Get on the floor and run, rebound. When you’re struggling, you have to find other things to help your confidence, rather than just a thing of making a shot.”
Wittman offered the same advice for Beal, a 19-year-old rookie who has scored just 10 points on 2-of-13 shooting through his first two games. Beal has disappeared offensively for long stretches in both games and Price credited opposing teams for focusing on taking him out.
“He’s probably the first guy they talk about in the scouting report. Defenses are geared to stop him,” Price said. “But he needs to stay with it and understand we’re with him. If he stays confident, he’ll be fine.”
Though he beat out Jordan Crawford to become the seventh-youngest opening day starter in NBA history, Beal has been especially hard on himself for not playing up to his usual standard.
“Trevor [Ariza] pulled me to the side and just told me, ‘It may not be your year, this year. You never know. You just have to stay your course. You play the right way, just keep doing that,’ ” Beal said after going 0 for 5 with two points against Boston. “The way I play, I play within the flow of the game. I’m not going to just go get the ball and run up shots; it’s just not me. I just have to keep playing ball, I just can’t let it affect me.”
Crawford was the starting shooting guard at the end of last season and has led the Wizards in scoring in both games, averaging 16 points and four assists. Wittman likes the scoring boost that Crawford provides from the bench but may look to insert him or Seraphin — who had 19 points against Boston in his return from a strained right calf — to help generate offense from the opening tip.
“We’ve got to figure out a better way of starting games,” he said.