The obstacles facing the Washington Wizards at the start of the season are abundant and unavoidable. They’re without three of their most important players because of injury, robbing the roster of its scoring punch and size up front and forcing them to outwork and outsmart their opponents.
If that wasn’t enough to contend with, the Wizards exacerbated their flaws in a sloppy showing against Cleveland in the season opener. In its 94-84 loss to the Cavaliers on Tuesday, Washington shot poorly, struggled to rebound and generally looked nothing like the team that started to establish momentum with cohesive play toward the end of the preseason.
So with three days at his disposal before the Wizards host the Boston Celtics at Verizon Center on Saturday, Coach Randy Wittman set about cleaning up the self-inflicted errors.
“That wasn’t our team. There were some things that I saw that I hadn’t seen in four weeks of being together. Sometimes that’s first game, adrenaline flowing,” Wittman said.
“I thought we tried to do too much as individuals, which led us into a lot of bad things from an execution standpoint offensively,” Wittman said. “I told the guys before the game, nobody has to play a superhero effort to win this game. We’ve just got to do as individuals what you are capable of doing and no more. I think we tried to do more.”
The Wizards didn’t spend much time on the practice court Wednesday. Instead, they devoted the bulk of the afternoon to examining mistakes in a lengthy film session. In a game that featured 32-for-90 shooting (35.6 percent) and saw Washington out-rebounded 54-39, there were plenty of improvements to be found.
For rookie Bradley Beal, who didn’t score in the second half against the Cavaliers, that meant close study of the defensive assignments he missed and seeking clarification on play calls that “confused” him. He dismissed the notion that first-game jitters played a role in his performance and said he’s not placing additional pressure on himself to produce offensively.
But Beal, 19, readily acknowledged that he wasn’t at his best and didn’t maintain his intensity over the course of the contest.
“I was all over the place. I wasn’t there mentally. I wasn’t as hyped or active on both ends as I usually am, Coach definitely pointed that out,” he said. “It’s hard for me to see because I’m out there in the game, I think I’m playing hard. But until he actually shows you the film and it’s totally different — film never lies. I have to be more aggressive, be more assertive and just be ready to play.”
Meanwhile, third-year forward Trevor Booker got to relive his 2-for-9 shooting performance along with the four fouls and an uncharacteristic quartet of turnovers against Cleveland. Booker, who over 116 career games averages less than a turnover and 2.2 fouls, knew he didn’t have his best outing.
“I definitely had an off night. I didn’t play like myself, I felt like that pretty much cost us the game,” Booker said. “I wish we were playing [Wednesday] just because I played so bad last night. I’ve got to wait a few more days, but I’ll be ready.”
While the Wizards’ task likely won’t get any easier until John Wall (left knee), Nene (plantar fasciitis) and Kevin Seraphin (right calf) return from injury, they can make it more manageable by correcting the miscues and getting back to being the up-tempo, pressure-defense style that Wittman wants.
The key, especially while those three players remain out, may very well be in simplifying things rather than on any one person trying to shoulder the burden. That’s how the Wizards’ bench put together a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter to mount a comeback in Cleveland, and that’s how they think they can contend on most nights.
“We got it together in the fourth quarter and we’ve got to play like that every game, every quarter,” said Earl Barron, who was one of the players on the floor during that run. “We can’t dig a hole and then fight hard to dig ourselves out of the hole, we’ve got to start the game off like that.
“Everybody knows their jobs. If we execute our offense everybody can shoot; everybody can score. It’s just a matter of moving the ball, setting good screens, coming off hard ready to shoot, coming off hard on both ends.”