With the Washington Wizards having lost three consecutive games last week, including two to the Chicago Bulls, Coach Gar Heard said yesterday that one of the team's biggest problems is the relative ease with which it accepts defeat.
"When I was playing, when we lost a game it would eat me up inside," said Heard, an 11-year NBA veteran. "Players would want to tear something down, especially when you lose a game you're supposed to win. I don't see that enough.
"I can go back to the loss to Chicago [last week]. Any other team that I played for or have been associated with, someone probably would have kicked down the locker room door on the way in after the game. I didn't see that.
"I know these guys don't want to lose and as a coach you try to dig the effort out of them every night. I've seen the type of team we can have when we focus in on what we have to do. I've also seen that when we're not ready mentally to play we can lose to anyone."
Heard is hoping his team is mentally prepared for the Toronto Raptors at MCI Center tonight. Washington responded to its two losses against the lowly Bulls with a gritty showing in a 130-129 double-overtime loss to Milwaukee Saturday night.
Heard is searching for consistent effort from his players. To get it, one must support or blast his teammates, something that hasn't occurred, Heard said. Heard has tried to motivate his team by yelling, encouraging, criticizing and changing lineups. The results have been mixed.
"I believe at some point somebody is going to snap," Heard said. "The coach can snap and the minute he walks out of the room players can turn him off. But when you start getting pressure from one of your peers or two or three of your peers, then players tend to realize that they have to start getting things together. At some point I think that will happen and we'll get this thing going."
With the season nearing its midpoint and the Wizards (11-23) losing more than two thirds of their games, Heard said he knows that he is going to receive the brunt of the blame, some of it deserved, he acknowledged.
"The coach is going to be the scapegoat most of the time," Heard said.
The Bulls won their third and fourth games of the season against Washington.
The Wizards' woeful performances in the back-to-back losses to Chicago prompted some media and personnel from other teams to raise questions about Heard's job security.
The Wizards' management has stood steadfast behind Heard, who, after an extensive search last spring, was selected over several candidates that included Isiah Thomas and Doc Rivers, who was hired to coach the Orlando Magic. Heard said he is not worried about his future as Wizards' coach.
"When you take a job as a coach you know that at some point you're going to get fired. It happens to everyone," Heard said. "But I've never taken that approach. I came at this job wanting to establish a winning attitude with these guys, to make them competitive every night."
Heard, an NBA assistant coach for the past 12 years, admitted that he is learning on the job. As an assistant, it was his duty to prepare players on a game-by-game basis for different foes. Things are different now that he is in charge of the whole operation, and his duties range from coaching to dealing with the media to making public appearances.
"As a head coach you try to have a strong philosophy that is going to carry over every game," Heard said. "In training camp we tried to establish a defensive philosophy that is going to stand up against all the teams we're going to play and make minor adjustments from game to game. Unfortunately, we worked on it a lot but we didn't have the key players we needed to do some of the things we needed to get done.
"The first 10 to 15 games were almost like training camp again."
Injuries to guard Mitch Richmond, center Ike Austin and forward Aaron Williams, coupled with several missed practices and games by point guard Rod Strickland hampered Heard early in the season.
However, now that he has had enough time to implement his system and gauge his team, Heard said talent doesn't always measure up to desire and cohesiveness, intangibles that allow some teams to succeed.
"When I first took the job I looked at the names on the roster and said this is not a bad team. You get caught up in the names and money and forget about chemistry. We're still working on our chemistry. I didn't realize before I got here that the chemistry really wasn't that great.
"When you're around guys you can see their strengths and weaknesses. When you're looking at them as an opposing coach and you only see them two or four times a year, you only tend to notice the good things about them. I found out over the first 34 games we have a lot of weaknesses we have to work out."
Wizards Notes: Richmond came out of Saturday night's double-overtime loss to Milwaukee with sore ribs and forward Michael Smith is nursing a sore right shoulder. Richmond was excused from practice and Smith was limited in drills yesterday. . . . Strickland also was excused from practice because of personal reasons. He will start tonight. . . . Austin returned to practice yesterday after missing two games with strep throat.