Wizards still struggling to close with double-digit leads


Are we really doing this again? (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Coach Randy Wittman was unusually hoarse when he addressed reporters after the Wizards’ 100-94 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday night, and Bradley Beal revealed the reason why a day later.

“Yeah, he gave it to us after the game, for sure,” Beal said. “Words I can’t even repeat.”

Wittman was perhaps most upset because he has had to repeat the same words in similar speeches after his team lost a game in which it led by 16 points – the Wizards’ second-largest blown lead in a defeat this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Wizards have lost 11 games in which they have held double-digit leads this season, which is tied for third in the NBA behind lottery teams New Orleans (14) and Detroit (13).

“This is a game of frustration, ups and downs and such. We’re having a hard time learning from some of our mistakes and that’s the hard thing sometimes, maybe frustration sets in,” Wittman said, explaining his mood after the loss. “We work our way and instead of how we worked our way to get there, we throw that ‘how’ part sometimes. If it’s whether we can relax a little bit, we can try to do things a different way now, experiment a little bit, momentum changes so fast in this league. When it does, sometimes, it’s hard to stop and that’s been the case in a lot of games and just not one or two that we’ve lost in that fashion and we’ve got to be more cognizant of staying the course and how we got there.”

The Wizards blew three double-digit leads in March, including two on their disappointing West Coast trip in which they let Sacramento rally from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit and Denver come back from a 14-point deficit. They also let the Los Angeles Lakers cut a 21-point second-half lead down to seven before the end of the third quarter of a game that they eventually won.

“I think sometimes we think teams are going to give up. We’ve got to do a better job of staying mentally tough and keeping our foot on the gas,” Beal said. “I’d rather go through it now than go through it in the playoffs and get it out of our system in the regular season, so hopefully moving forward, we won’t deal with it. If we have leads and we’re in position to close things out, we’ll be able to do so but it’s definitely something we’ve been going through all year, but eventually we’ll figure it out.”

Before those March meltdowns, the Wizards hadn’t lifted up a team completely off the mat from a big hole since losing in double overtime at home on Feb. 5 against the San Antonio Spurs. The Wizards had a 17-point lead and Gregg Popovich had let his players know at halftime that he would bench them if the lead got any worse. Instead the Spurs needed just two minutes to score nine consecutive points to start the third period and the Wizards were suddenly in a tight game.

“From my understanding, it’s probably been like 13 or 14 games this year where the team has had a nice comfortable lead in the fourth quarter and the team makes a run,” said Andre Miller, who has only been around for the past three collapses. “You figure that, regardless of the young guys we have on the team, we would learn from it. But you don’t want to wait until the last minute to turn it on but when you do that, things like [Charlotte] might happen.”

Miller said the Wizards have to be more aware that they can’t let up with the season winding down. “Teams are in desperate need of wins. [The Bobcats] found a way to muster up some energy and have a solid defensive fourth quarter and when shots didn’t fall for us, we kind of lost our confidence and lost our intensity on defense and that can’t happen.”

Beal joked that he’s concerned that the repeated blunders and breakdowns are starting to cause Wittman to lose his hair. “He’s going bald,” Beal said of Wittman, shaking his head. “He’s definitely been on top of us, yelling, screaming, but you expect that. It’s crunch time. he’s trying to get us to win and he’s doing everything he can to put us in the right situation and it’s up to us to be able to do so. He has every right to be upset and be as strict as he is.”

Marcin Gortat said last week that the Wizards lack the necessary killer instinct and Wittman has been flustered by his team’s inability to take a big lead and make it bigger rather than giving opposing teams hope. Wittman blamed most of the Wizards’ problems on growing complacent with relative success.

“It’s not so much concentration,” he said. “Sometimes, you look at the scoreboard and, ‘Ooh, I can take a break here now.’ Sigh of relief. Instead of the other way — making 16, 26 and now it’s ball game. I think sometimes we think: ‘Sixteen! Whew, I can take a break here or there. I can take a shortcut here or there, all of a sudden, 16 is six and it’s a ballgame.’ Sixteen is 26 and it’s different. We’ve got to remain in tune with the game. It’s hard sometimes. Human nature, you know, but we’ve been burned enough by it.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.

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Michael Lee · April 1, 2014

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