By Michael Lee
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Wizards Coach Flip Saunders and co-captains Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison took turns questioning the team's effort in a 102-86 loss Friday night to the Indiana Pacers.
The team left Indianapolis a mess -- figuratively and literally, leaving a doozy of a clean-up job for the locker room attendants at Conseco Fieldhouse -- and spent Saturday at Verizon Center trying to regain the focus it has lost during a three-game losing streak.
For Saunders, the greater concern is making sure that his players start with the basics, by giving an honest effort and sustaining energy Sunday afternoon against the high-scoring Phoenix Suns. "If you don't have energy with them, they're going to score 140 on you," Saunders said with a chuckle. "We've got to get back to playing the right way."
The Wizards appeared to be on the right path when they started the season 2-1, including an impressive victory in Dallas. But after building an 18-point lead in Cleveland on Tuesday, Washington has been backsliding. They've had more turnovers than assists, a fact that particularly rankles Saunders and led to the smashing of a plate of fruit and bubblegum in the visitors' locker room at Conseco.
Jamison's expletive-laced tirade was perhaps the loudest and last on Friday, but Butler said a few players spoke up and expressed their concerns about the direction of the team.
"I was upset," said Butler, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds in the loss. "We felt like we were the better ball club [than Indiana]. If a couple of links in the chain are not with it, it's not happening. The growing process is over. Me, as a professional, I have expectations of what I want to do on the court and if you're not meeting the expectations, the least you can do is go out there and play with energy and put the effort up."
Saunders doesn't want to take any chances with having yet another sluggish start against the Suns (6-1), so he said the might insert Randy Foye into the starting lineup at shooting guard. With Mike Miller sidelined with a sprained left shoulder, Nick Young started against the Pacers and finished with just three points. Foye started at shooting guard in the home opener against New Jersey and he had 17 points and eight assists as the Wizards scored a season-high 123 points.
"Whatever the team needs me to do, that's what I'm going to do," Foye said. "Coach, if he's going to start me, I'm going go out there and do my job. We got to man up. It's a big test for us [against Phoenix]. We have to be willing to take the challenge."
Foye had some success teaming with Gilbert Arenas early in the season. But Arenas said he already understands the pain that Butler and Jamison felt last season, playing almost the entire year without him and Brendan Haywood. Inconsistent performances and injuries to Jamison, Miller and even Butler for one game have likely forced Saunders to go with his fourth different lineup in seven games.
"I'm sitting here witnessing why they can be frustrated a whole season," Arenas said. "The players who care are frustrated. The players who don't, don't care. You got two types of people in this league, people who get it and people who don't get it. The people who don't get it, just don't get it."
Arenas pointed out how the Wizards have yet to develop the proper chemistry because players have yet to either accept or understand their roles. "We have a team where everybody thinks they should be playing," he said. "And when you have a team like that, you have bitter players on the sideline."
Arenas, also a co-captain on the team, added that Jamison's absence is noticeable on the floor, and not just from what he provided with his scoring, rebounding and ability to balance the floor.
"He's the leader of this team, so his voice is very powerful," Arenas said about Jamison, who is expected to return from his shoulder injury in the next week or so. "We just have to keep moving, keep ticking away, keep learning, keep getting better until our pieces get here. We can keep saying the same thing every night, but eventually, we have to turn this around."
Saunders said he hopes that the words from Butler and Jamison on Friday will give the players an understanding of the sense of urgency required.
"It might not lead initially, but over the long haul, it does. The players can hold each other accountable," he said. "When you're on the floor, you have to trust the player playing next to you. That trust has to be that guy is giving you everything he has, and that he's as serious about this game as you are. When you have that trust, you can play with more confidence. That's what this game is, is confidence. It's like a rock, you might not break it on the first swing, but you might break it on the hundredth. You got to keep pounding away."
Foye said he thinks the players really took the comments from Jamison and Butler to heart. "Coach could go crazy on us, yell and scream, but at the end of the day it's us," he said. "At the end of the game tomorrow, we have to look ourselves and say, 'Did we bring it?' And I know we're going to say, 'Yeah we brought it.' "