Otto Porter Jr. rubbed his face and breathed deeply. He had showered off the stench of the Washington Wizards‘ 103-97 loss to the tanking Atlanta Hawks on Friday night and — because he had the misfortune of dressing a bit slower than most of his teammates — Porter needed to stand in front of a group of reporters. He listened to the first of a series of questions about what’s wrong with the Wizards, and looked uncomfortable.
There’s something very wrong with the Wizards (42-38), and Porter had very few answers.
“I don’t know,” Porter said, when asked about the root of the team’s problems over their season-high, four-game losing streak. “I really can’t answer that.”
Washington has spiraled to rock-bottom. Since Feb. 28, the Wizards are 6-13, a .316 winning percentage — lowest of all playoff-bound teams in both conferences.
Tomas Satoransky, who started in place of a resting John Wall against the Hawks, also offered “I don’t know” when asked what has changed within the team since its impressive stretch in late January. However, with only two regular-season games remaining, Satoransky said the team is running out of time for solutions.
“The way we play, no one is happy about it, obviously,” Satoransky said. “We are supposed to be playing great for the playoffs, improving in all things and now we are just struggling all over the floor. We have to really change it quickly.”
In fiery comments after the Friday night loss, Coach Scott Brooks diagnosed the team’s disease as selfishness.
“Not passing the ball to one another. Simple as that. Nobody wanted to share the basketball tonight,” Brooks said. “When you do that you end up taking bad shots. When you take bad shots, you end up missing. Simple game. You pass it to your teammate.”
“One-on-one players, there’s not many in this league,” Brooks concluded, “and we don’t have one on our team.”
Against the Hawks, who have placed seven on the inactive list — including the team’s best player, Dennis Schröder — the Wizards started the game with no energy. As a result, they fell behind and played catch-up but turned to one-on-one plays and quick jumpers to try to save the day. Ball movement did not exist Friday, but over the past 19 games, Washington has averaged 26.8 assists per game, second most in the league. So while selfish play ruled for one night, the stats would argue against suspect ball movement as the main problem.
Instead, the Wizards’ biggest headache has come on defense.
The perimeter players show no resistance. The bigs, or at least the guys shoehorned into that role, cannot protect the rim. Teammates pout and stare at one another after poor communication leads to breakdowns, as they did when Hawks rookie John Collins breezed down the lane for an early dunk or as reserve forward Mike Muscala knocked down the open corner three-pointer that pulled Atlanta ahead for good late in the game.
“We are not aggressive like we used to be — without weak side, without communication, lot of lack of communication for the whole game,” Satoransky said. “It’s a little bit the same on offense. We don’t cut, we don’t pass, we are lacking some aggressiveness, the same like on defense. It was on both ends, obviously, so a very bad image.”
Since a Feb. 28 loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Wizards have ranked 30th out of 30 teams in allowing opponents to shoot 48.6 percent from the floor. Even the Hawks, who occupy last place in the East and are one of the worst shooting teams at 44.6 percent, outperformed their season average by four percentage points against Washington.
Although Porter cannot explain what has changed so dramatically with the Wizards — “I wish I could tell you,” he said to another question — he would rather focus on finding the cure.
“We’ve just got to look at ourselves in the mirror. What can I do to make the team better,” Porter said. “Whether that’s rebounding [or] defending better. We have to do a way better job of defending one-on-one, taking pride in defense. I think that’s a big thing with us. We’re going to go back to the drawing board and watch film of these last four games. We’re going to come to a conclusion on what we need to do.”
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