When Randy Wittman took over as coach of the Washington Wizards on Jan. 24, the team was coming off an embarrassing 103-83 loss to Philadelphia that in part caused Flip Saunders his job. In their five subsequent games, the Wizards won twice, albeit against lowly Charlotte, and played with enough resolve two other times to indicate an on-court transformation may be at hand.
Any equity the Wizards had accumulated, though, all but vanished following Saturday night’s 107-81 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Coupled with its blowout loss on Friday at Toronto, Washington has dropped the last two games by a combined 43 points, leading Wittman to concede the team may have regressed.
“Yeah, a little bit,” Wittman said when asked if he was concerned about players reverting back to losing habits. “We’ve got to find a way on Monday now to regroup. We’ve got to find something.”
Part of that process included practicing on Sunday afternoon one day after Wittman conducted a workout the previous morning. Wittman said with the compressed season in wake of the lockout, he plans to use whatever time he can salvage to dedicate to strategy and execution.
No doubt Monday night’s opponent has something to do with conducting practice despite Washington (4-20) about to play in its fourth game in six nights, including its second in four days against Toronto. The Raptors throttled the Wizards, 106-89, when they last played on Friday at Air Canada Centre.
The loss, in which Washington shot 38 percent and was outrebounded, 61-37, was all the more humbling considering the Raptors were missing injured Andrea Bargnani. The Italian forward-center was in the midst of his most productive season in five years in the NBA, averaging 23.5 points and 6.4 rebounds, before a left calf injury forced him from the lineup late last month.
Bargnani is out indefinitely, although Toronto (8-17) clearly didn’t require his services the last time it played Washington. The Raptors’ bench made sure of that by getting 18 points and a game-high 13 rebounds from forward-center Amir Johnson and a team-high 19 points from guard Leandro Barbosa.
“It’s frustrating because we are not playing at the level that we should be right now,” starting guard Nick Young said. “We need to do a better job of executing the game plan. We will go back to the drawing board and continue to focus on what Coach says and play good team basketball.”
Young scored a game-high 21 points against Toronto, and the Wizards also got 15 points and four assists from starting point guard John Wall. Among the collateral benefits during the last two games for the No. 1 overall pick in 2010 has been more rest than usual because of the lopsided results.
Averaging nearly 36 minutes per game, Wall played 29 minutes 24 seconds against the Clippers and only 13 minutes in the second half when Los Angeles expanded its lead to as many as 36 points, compelling many patrons to boo, head to the exits early or both.
The poor showing also led Wittman to discuss possibly tinkering with the lineup come Monday night. He did just that against the Clippers, inserting second-year forward Trevor Booker into the starting lineup in place of rookie Jan Vesely. Booker was among the few Wizards players Wittman singled out afterward for his energetic play.
“We know how to play hard,” Wall said. “The first [five] games we played with Coach, we were able to do it. The last two games we didn’t do it, and that hurt us. It’s not just one person; it’s everybody not doing it as a team. When we aren’t able to do it as a team, it hurts.”