But in Tuesday’s loss to the rebuilding Chicago Bulls, it was as if Pandora’s box was cracked in the first quarter. Washington (0-4) bombed from the three-point line for the second game in a row, shooting 27 percent, and made it to the free throw line just three times before halftime. Starters Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and Thomas Bryant committed the type of egregious turnovers they don’t usually make, contributing to the team’s 19, their highest across four games. On defense, they allowed Chicago 15 makes from beyond the arc and took a beating in transition after halftime.
As a result, the Wizards are left with a complicated task at hand as they look to a rematch with Chicago (1-3) at home Thursday. There is no singular problem to focus on but rather an assortment of issues to address — and a question: Where to start?
“It’s not just one thing we can pinpoint,” Beal said during Wednesday’s post-practice video conferences. “I think it’s just constant, little mistakes that we continue to make. And we have to learn from it.”
Washington will receive reinforcement off the bat Thursday when forward Rui Hachimura plays limited minutes for the first time this season after missing two weeks with conjunctivitis.
Hachimura averaged 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds in his rookie year and should give the Wizards another player with fourth-quarter experience, an issue Washington has cited with its young roster over the past week. But if the second-year pro follows the pattern of others who missed parts of preseason — he missed the final two games — he will need time to find his rhythm with this retooled roster. Hachimura has never played alongside Westbrook in a game.
“Man, I'm happy. I'm so happy that Rui's coming back,” Bryant said Wednesday. “We finally got a real good forward back on our squad that plays both sides, so, you know, that really could help us out.”
The Wizards are hoping Hachimura’s return provides an immediate boon to their defense, which Westbrook and Beal singled out as the most pressing issue in the team’s collection.
In a video conference after Tuesday’s loss, Westbrook said Washington hasn’t been tough enough on the defensive end. Beal agreed after practice Wednesday, going on to highlight switching and boxing out as the type of small things the Wizards need to drill down on.
Coach Scott Brooks addressed yet another concern during practice, zeroing in on the offense in film study and adding a clear message: Don’t second guess what had been working, even if shots aren’t falling.
“When we get into our offense and everybody knows it — we have some players who are still trying to learn some of the things that we’re doing offensively — but when we’re moving the ball, we’re really good,” Brooks said. “We have great spacing, quick decisions, and that’s just what we’ve got to keep focusing on.”
The list of things to focus on is long just one week into the season, but players and coach alike have stressed the importance of togetherness as Washington works to solve its many issues. The team had an extended locker-room conversation after the loss Tuesday night, and when players did emerge on video conferences, the mood was heavy as both Westbrook and forward Davis Bertans pledged to move through the trying start as a team. Both sounded as if the season had lasted much longer than four games.
Westbrook later that night posted a picture of the full roster along with a quote about adversity from Martin Luther King Jr.
Beal didn't speak to the media after the game but said he remained at Capital One Arena watching film, his mind racing as he tried to identify a solution to the Wizards' problems.
“How can we hold on to these leads? How can we sustain what we’ve been doing? How can we put together a run, put together a couple stops? What is it?” Beal said. “. . . I think the beauty of our team is everybody wants to figure out what it is. Everybody wants to figure out how they can get better, how they can contribute. And I think that’s a good thing. It’s tough because we’re 0-4, and you’re looking at it like, ‘Damn, something’s got to give.’ But at the same time, it’s a blessing, and you look at it as it’s an adverse time. You find out who you really are during these tough times.”