Washington guard Bradley Beal (3) says his team is “pretty soft right now” on defense. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Wizards lost again Monday night, a 92-88 defeat to the Charlotte Hornets,  and have lost three straight games for the second time in just over a month. Once 22-8, they are 9-10 since Dec. 30 and nine games behind the surging Atlanta Hawks in the Southeast Division standings.

The losing formula has been consistent in recent games: They’ve dug themselves double-digit deficits in each of their last four contests and are 1-3 over the stretch. The only win came against a shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers squad.

“I think we definitely took several steps back in these last five games, especially defensively,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. “We haven’t been the same team that got up and was physical and tough on them. We are pretty soft right now.”

Wizards Coach Randy Wittman offered a litany of reasons for the recent struggles.

“We point fingers and until we all get back on the same page and come out and play hard for 48 minutes, and look at ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do more?’ rather than point our finger and say ‘It’s not me,’ that’s where we are at,” Wittman explained. “Like I said, I’ll take the blame for that, of allowing us to get there.

“There are some good teams in this league that can maybe get away with coasting for a half, but we are not one of them. When we’ve played to get to where we were, it’s because we played hard every night and accepted coaching. We’ve had some success when we’ve taken it a little easy, but we are paying for it. That’s what the bottom line is. Until we play hard, all out, and have each other’s back rather than pointing fingers and saying, ‘It’s not my fault, it’s his fault,’ we are not beating anybody. That’s kind of it in a nutshell.”

The struggles have forced Wittman to try different lineup combinations, including putting Garrett Temple back in the rotation for the first time since mid-November when Beal claimed his starting spot after recovering from a broken left wrist. Temple backed John Wall up at point guard on Monday and provided a spark in the third quarter with three steals to fuel an 8-0 run. His inclusion led to Andre Miller’s first DNP of the season.

Nene, however, had a different take from his coach.

“It’s not him who’s going to be defending players so he can say whatever he wants,” Nene said of his coach. “That’s not him who’s going to be inside the court defending players. That’s the thing.”

The Brazilian big man later added: “I wouldn’t say finger pointing but when you see wrong things definitely point to [it]. In this game you need energy and take pride in guarding your man. We don’t play like that in the last few games here. That’s one thing. Teams have been playing hard, they’ve been playing more physical, and sharing the ball more than us. For sure.”

PIERCE ECLIPSES ENGLISH WITH A THREE

With his three-pointer 1 minute 13 seconds into the contest, Paul Pierce passed Alex English for 15th on the all-time scoring list with 25,614 points. Pierce finished the game with 11 and now sits 256 points behind former teammate and close friend Kevin Garnett for 14th on the leaderboard.

UP NEXT: ATLANTA HAWKS 

The Wizards’ road only gets harder Wednesday, when they take on the surging Atlanta Hawks on the road. The Hawks have already beaten Washington twice, including a 120-89 dismantling last month. Atlanta is 40-9 and had its 19-game winning streak snapped in a 15-point loss to the New Orleans Pelicans Monday.