TORONTO — The Washington Wizards have no problems expressing themselves. Their candor plays well on the Internet, and their confidence has garnered attention beyond the Beltway. Before their prime-time game this past Friday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, interview clips featuring Bradley Beal and John Wall — the latter saying that Cleveland had dodged the Wizards in last season’s playoff seedings — circulated on social media, to the delight of basketball Twitter.
Then the struggling Cavaliers won, 130-122. And though the Wizards’ locker room does not lack for colorful characters, they may need to try something new: modesty.
On Sunday night, following a 107-96 road win over the Toronto Raptors, starting center Marcin Gortat advised that the team needs to bind its unfettered confidence.
“Just because we won this game today here, it doesn’t mean that everything is fine and we back on the right track. There’s a lot of things we’ve got to work on,” Gortat said. “First of all, we’ve got to become a more humble team and we just got to work harder.”
Gortat’s message: less talk and more action.
Despite Gortat’s supersized personality — the man once walked a pig on a leash through a shopping mall in Poland — as the graybeard among the Wizards, he tends to be more pragmatic. And when Gortat’s comments were shared with teammates, they agreed with the suggestion.
“He’s not wrong in this instance,” Kelly Oubre Jr. said. “We’ve got to be humble. We’ve got to stop going to the media and doing things and saying things. We kind of got to let our game do the talking.”
Said Beal, who led the Wizards with 38 points on Sunday: “For sure. We definitely need to feed off this energy but at the same time we got to realize we’re not the team we want to be or that we need to be. So we’ve got a long ways to go. It definitely starts with humility, you know, realizing what’s at stake and what’s ahead of us and taking it game by game.”
The genesis of the Wizards’ self-assurance was well before this season. Back in 2014, Beal proclaimed that he and Wall ranked as the best backcourt in the NBA. However, Beal believes the team’s fast start to the 2017-18 season provided false confidence.
“I would say early on, probably when we were 3-0,” Beal said. “Then we played the Lakers. I think that kind of started it. We kind of thought we were going to be better than we were. We had three great wins but at the same time, we got to be able to win on the road to be a great team.”
Not only did the Wizards lose to the Lakers, a young team likely to miss the playoffs, but they lost after falling into LaVar Ball’s web of nonsense. Ahead of the matchup, Ball, the father of Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, had predicted his son wouldn’t lose and that the Wizards better “beware.” Gortat responded by scoffing at Ball on Twitter, and when asked directly how he would treat Lonzo Ball on the court, Wall responded with “no mercy.” Forthright, but the words were flipped against Washington after the 102-99 loss in overtime.
And yet, this didn’t stop Wall and Beal from making bold comments before the Cleveland game, their first big matchup of the season, on ESPN’s “The Jump.”
“I feel like we’re the best team,” Beal said about the Eastern Conference, repeating a statement he has shared since training camp. “I always stand by it. Why would I sit here and say another team is better than my team? I’m not going to sit here and do that. I’ve got confidence in myself and my teammates and what we can bring to our team.”
By Sunday, however, no reporter was asking whether the Wizards are the best team in the East. Rather, questions focused on more practical matters, such as how the team built and almost gave back a big lead again.
Though Oubre is the youngest on the team, he has become one of the Wizards’ main spokesmen. Much like his expressive teammates, Oubre has immersed himself in the spotlight — before coming to work on Friday, he wore a faux fur coat with a NSFW message on the back. Even so, Oubre backs Gortat’s advice for the team to be more humble.
“We believe everything what we’re saying. We believe it 100 percent. We just got to let it happen. We can’t force issues,” Oubre said. “We got to kind of let success come to us throughout our work. We just got to continue to work, but he’s right.”
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