Humbled following another embarrassing home loss to a team with an inferior record, Wizards players were a much more attentive group when they arrived for Saturday’s practice at Verizon Center. Coach Randy Wittman didn’t have a difficult time conveying his message to a team that has made progress from previous seasons but continues to stumble when facing seemingly ideal situations.
“There is a big difference, a big commitment, a big way you have to play from being an average team, to being a team well over .500,” Wittman said. “And I told these guys, I think they should be well over .500 and we’re not. And why are those reasons, and those are the reasons: we don’t come out on a consistent basis and play with the energy and effort at the start of games that we need to. You got to do more than be an above average team. Are you willing to do that?”
The Wizards are 24-25 primarily because they haven’t been able to stay focused or dedicated for close to 48 minutes. They have been able to sneak out some wins against elite teams that might expect an easy night but have failed to realize that they aren’t good enough to take a similar approach against teams below them.
In their six home losses against teams with inferior records, the Wizards have either fallen behind by double digits before waking up or led by double-digits in the first half and fallen asleep. They trailed by 14 points in the fourth quarter of a 115-113 loss against the dysfunctional Cleveland Cavaliers before they made a push in the final four minutes. They also trailed Milwaukee by 15 points and Boston by 19 points, led Philadelphia by 14, Cleveland by 15 and Detroit by 10.
“Sick and tired of losing to these teams. At some point enough is enough,” Martell Webster said.
Wittman is waiting for his players to prove it. With the struggling Sacramento Kings in town and possibly without Rudy Gay, Wittman will again face the challenge of getting his team geared up to avoid another let down.
“I’ve got to figure something new out obviously, that falls on my shoulders,” Wittman said. “I don’t have any answer for why that happens.”
After the loss to the Cavaliers, John Wall refused to place any blame on Wittman, who warned the Wizards of the dangers of playing a team going through difficult times. Wittman had given his starters a day off to rest and recover mentally and physically from a draining double-overtime loss on Wednesday to the San Antonio Spurs. He let them know that they were on a six-game skid and had just fired General Manager Chris Grant. He told them that the game would be a huge test to see if they are a legitimately good team. And the Wizards proved to be the opposite.
“I think coach is doing a heck of a job,” Wall said. “You’re in this situation to get over .500 and then you have an opportunity to beat the Spurs, you let that game go and you have an opportunity to play an OK team that’s struggling, going through so much especially losing their GM in the Cavaliers and you don’t go out there and show the respect to those guys. They come out there and slap us in the face and beat us. I don’t think there’s nothing more you can do. He does everything he can in practice. They show us the game schemes and the concepts and everything we do. We’re the ones as players who’ve got to go out there and put our heart on the line and compete.”
Wittman sought out suggestions from his players on Saturday but said he didn’t hear any responses. Marcin Gortat added that Wittman doesn’t have to do anything differently to get the team going.
“I’m just speaking for myself, obviously. I don’t think that coach has to do anything different with me. I motivate myself for the game and I don’t need anybody to motivate me. I take everything seriously. Obviously, not every time I’m playing the best basketball, but to me, each one of us has to find a way to get ready for the game and focus and just try to play the game like he’s playing the last time in his life. Sometimes, we just don’t do that.”
Veteran Al Harrington also spoke highly of the way Wittman gets the team prepared for games. “I have so much respect for Witt. Coming here, I didn’t know what kind of coach he was. But being around him these last four months he’s a very fair guy. He’s demanding. He’s the same with everybody,” Harrington said. “It’s not going to come from him at this point. It’s up to the players to start pushing each other and holding each other accountable. We need to get in each other’s face. He only can do so much.”
Bradley Beal said the Wizards should have at least 30 wins by now. Wittman agrees, but said that they are being held back by thinking that the wins will just come to them. “Until we are willing from a minimal standpoint to say,‘You know what, we‘ve got to do this every night,’ then we’re going to be win two, lose two, win three, lose three,” Wittman said. “That’s what we’re going to be, and I think they can be better than that. But not with that thought process going into games like that.”