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Washington Wizards take critique from Coach Flip Saunders after loss to Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors' Sonny Weems, top, dunks the ball over Washington Wizards' Andray Blatche during first-half NBA basketball game action in Toronto, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)
Toronto Raptors' Sonny Weems, top, dunks the ball over Washington Wizards' Andray Blatche during first-half NBA basketball game action in Toronto, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese) (Darren Calabrese - AP)

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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2010; 12:04 AM

Before they hit the court for a brief practice Thursday, the Washington Wizards had to sit in the locker room to watch film of their appalling defensive performance the night before in Toronto.

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The footage of the Raptors driving, dunking and converting uncontested layups and jumpers was gruesome, and so was Coach Flip Saunders's critique with his players after the team suffered an embarrassing 127-108 loss that had more to do with a massive disparity in trying than in talent.

"We didn't play with no energy. If you watched film like we did, we just didn't have no effort," said No. 1 overall pick John Wall, whose return after missing the previous two games with a bruised left knee did little to keep the Wizards (5-12) from setting a franchise record with nine consecutive road losses to open a season.

Wall also said that the players have to start taking on a greater responsibility of policing each other. He said he didn't feel comfortable telling his teammates about their mistakes when he was sidelined for six of the previous eight games before Toronto.

"Now that I'm back on the court, I got to step my leadership role up again, start telling people when they're wrong and letting people tell me when I'm wrong, not getting mad," he said. "That's what we've got to start doing, like [assistant] coach Sam Cassell told us, we got to start holding people accountable, not letting them get away with little stuff, whether they're doing something wrong or not doing something right, we have to say something."

Wall admitted that speaking up isn't always easy, but it's a necessity for a struggling team. "I think at times, we scared to say something to each other because we think it might mess up a friendship or they might take it the wrong way. But until we start doing that and start keying in more on the defensive end, it seems like things are going to keep going like this."

Saunders didn't hold back as he pointed out the numerous lapses and breakdowns, the lack of focus, the inability to get back in transition, the failure to box out or chase down loose balls. His words during the film session stung. But feelings, perhaps, needed to be hurt for a young team coming off an unacceptable performance and on a season-long four-game slide.

"We had a couple of guys who still felt sorry for themselves because of how the game was and how our film session went," Saunders said. "But that's part of getting better. Accept criticism, take it and get better."

Three of the Wizards' past four losses have been by double digits, with the lone competitive game during this stretch coming with a 100-99 loss at home against Orlando, as they came within a Dwight Howard rebound putback of pulling off a shocking victory.

"We missed a lot of assignments, but it's got to start with competing, and that effort [in Toronto] was embarrassing. We didn't compete at all," Al Thornton said of the loss in Toronto. Thornton came back after missing the previous three games with a sprained left ankle.

"We've just got to start playing harder. At home we play with more energy because our fans are here," Wall said.

The Wizards are back at home on Friday against Portland, before setting off for a three-game road trip against Phoenix, the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento. But Saunders realizes that just being back at Verizon Center, where the Wizards are an impressive 5-3, won't be enough.

"As a young team, you can't worry about wins and losses; you got to worry about playing the right way, getting better," said Saunders, adding that his patience has fluctuated throughout the season. "Depends on when you talk to me. Sometimes I'm patient. Sometimes, I'm not. Like everybody, you become frustrated when the same mistakes are made over and over and over, and there are things you continue to work on. I've talked to a lot of people that have gone through it. And they said, 'It takes time and you have to be patient. Every player has a different learning curve and every team has a different learning curve.' "

Saunders said getting players back could limit the wear and tear on those who have been asked to take on more responsibility in the absence of others. He said Kirk Hinrich, who has started all 17 games and leads the team in minutes played "is worn down now."

Yi Jianlian ruled himself a game-time decision against the Trail Blazers, as he participated in a full practice for the first time since Wall crashed into his right knee, leading to a hyperextension, on Nov. 13.

Saunders is also eager to establish a solid, regular rotation that could help the Wizards develop some chemistry and halt this slide. "I think the thing from our standpoint, which has been pretty frustrating, we haven't had a chance to say, 'Here's our team.' We're going in [Friday] and we don't know who we're going to dress. That's a tough situation."

When asked who was questionable for the Portland game, Saunders joked, "Everybody."


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