Washington Wizards Coach Gar Heard said he'll wait until this morning to decide on a starting lineup for tonight's game with the Toronto Raptors at MCI Center. But in the wake of a 1-7 start, Heard vowed substantial changes, hinting that rookie shooting guard Richard Hamilton, forward Aaron Williams and center Jahidi White probably would replace Mitch Richmond, Michael Smith and Ike Austin, respectively.
If Heard does change his starting lineup it's because the Wizards have lost seven straight games and the starters have been ineffective, especially early. The Wizards have scored fewer than 20 points in four first quarters, and shot just 10 percent and scored 10 points in the first quarter Tuesday night in a 95-73 loss to Philadelphia.
The bench has outscored the starters in the last three games. The Wizards have the third-worst offense (91.5 points per game) and sixth-worst defense (105.4 points allowed) in the NBA. Austin and Richmond, in particular, have struggled.
"How much worse can it get?," Heard asked. "If it was that detrimental to change the lineup these guys would have stepped it up a long time ago. If I step on some egos that's the way it goes."
Said Richmond, who said his ailing left knee is healing and that he will not go on the injured list: "We talked a lot today as players and we've just got to keep stressing that we have to stay together. Everyone in that locker room likes each other. We can't start pointing fingers at one another. This is a team effort and we have to keep stressing that this [lineup change] is for the betterment of the team."
The players Heard likely will bench have been with Washington less than two seasons. However the first-year coach had some strong words for those players who have been here longer. He did not name names, but forward Juwan Howard and point guard Rod Strickland are the key players who've been with the team the longest.
Both are expected to start tonight, although Strickland's status is uncertain. He did not practice yesterday because of a stomach virus and was examined by a doctor. Chris Whitney would start if Strickland is not healthy today. And there is a chance Whitney could start anyway.
"The core has been here a number of years," Heard said. "We add new faces and new people but it still gets down to your main guys and how much they want it. Are they willing to make that sacrifice? We've proven over the last seven games we haven't."
Heard did not finalize his decision at practice yesterday in part because of Strickland's inability to practice.
"Any time a guy calls in and says he's sick, I can't question that," Heard said. "I would never question a guy when he says he's hurt or sick. It's up to him to question himself or up to his teammates to question it. He was here to watch practice so that's all I can say.
"We're still trying to get the offense going but all of that is tough when you still don't have one of your main guys on the court. How much can you work on things? These guys get used to playing with a guy like Chris but when the game starts, Rod is out there. It's tough. You can't get any type of unity, any type of flow."
Strickland admitted that part of Washington's swoon is because players, particularly the starters, are not comfortable with each other. As far as tinkering with the lineup, Strickland said: "That's not my decision. Whatever happens, happens."
Continued Strickland: "I'm disappointed in how things are going. I think everybody is. We're not playing up to our capabilities. You have to be positive about this thing. Obviously this is not the position we want to be in after eight games."
Changing the starting lineup might be one of the easier things to do for Heard. The hard part could be changing the losing mentality and certain bad habits of players who have not or are on the verge of not committing themselves to stopping the Wizards' seven-game losing streak, Heard said.
"If you look at this team, your core guys are still here and this team hasn't won," Heard said. "It's hard to change old habits. It's really hard."
Namely, correcting the players' failure to play defense when the offense struggles as well as stifling the team's quick demise in attitude if things do not go well from at the start.
"I think as a team we have to be on the same page defensively," said Williams, who likely will be making his first start of the season. "I think on defense we've got guys running all over the place. When we miss shots and other teams make shots it's like, 'Here we go again.' We just have to keep playing hard."