CHARLOTTE — Time and again, the Washington Wizards have followed a predictable routine following a bad loss.
The locker room door remains closed well after Coach Scott Brooks gets done assessing the performance in blunt terms in his post-game media availability. Then, as the space opens, a player will use colorful language to describe just how badly the team played: "They just whooped our [tail], really," John Wall offered Wednesday night after a 133-109 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. Finally, Washington will trot out the same starting five for its next game – barring injuries – and try to expunge the memories.
But Wednesday night's blowout, which featured familiar failures in defense and discipline, may have changes afoot.
Charlotte made its first 10 shots of the game, set a franchise mark for 77 points scored in the first half and outscored Washington, 50-30, in the paint.
Seven Hornets scored in double figures. Dwight Howard dominated, then laughed and mocked the Wizards (25-20). And from under this rubble – a season-high points surrendered – Brooks may be looking to rebuild.
"We're just going to have to find guys who are going to compete. It's not about nothing else," said Brooks, who then started to raise his voice. "It's not about shots. It's not about how many minutes. It's not about how many shots you get. It's about competing. We all get paid to compete regardless. Things aren't going your way offensively. It's not about that. It's about competing, and we didn't do that tonight."
Several poor defensive performances have blemished the schedule. In November, the Wizards gave up 130 points to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A month later, they were shamed in a 47-point loss to the Utah Jazz. But this was the Wizards at their worst – and their coach at his wit's end.
"He's pissed. That's just plain and simple," Bradley Beal said.
Although Brooks spent only a few minutes in the locker room following the game, his message could have lingering effects. According to Beal, Brooks was irate and more than hinted at changes coming to the rotation.
"He's upset. He's mad. We're not giving him what he wants from a production standpoint. He's going to make a change, for sure," Beal said. "That's pretty much all I can say. He was beyond furious after the game, so guys should expect to play and not play. That was pretty much his message."
The changes will likely affect the starting group. It was the first unit that played the majority of the woeful first half. The starters couldn't contain Charlotte in the pick and roll. The Hornets executed the two-man game between point guard Kemba Walker and Howard, then recycled the play over and over because – why not? The duo generated 22 of the Hornets' 38 points in the first quarter.
"They were making every shot. We didn't make them feel us. We didn't put pressure on guys," Wall said. "They were basically running dummy offense and getting whatever they wanted and being the more aggressive team, so that's why they scored so high."
It didn't stop there. The starters' lack of resistance spread to the perimeter, where the Wizards gave up a pair of four-point plays in the game's first six minutes.
At the 8:39 mark, Markieff Morris picked up his second foul after he closed late at the corner arc, but Marvin Williams still made the three-pointer. Just a few minutes later, Wall did the same against Walker. In the first half, Charlotte, which entered the game ranked 21st in the three-point percentage, made seven of its 14 attempts from the arc.
Morris committed three fouls and couldn't stay on the floor longer than five minutes in the first half. Center Marcin Gortat played 14 minutes and registered minus-19 while on the floor due to Howard's strong play. As Gortat finished the game scoreless, Howard had 18 points and 15 rebounds and also got the last laugh.
With four minutes to play, Tim Frazier grew angry at Hornets guard Michael Carter-Williams for going after Jason Smith. Both Frazier and Carter-Williams and picked up double technical fouls. Following their ejections, the Wizards chose Howard to come off the bench and shoot the free throws. Howard, notoriously bad from the foul line, stepped up and hit both, then blew a kiss to the Wizards' bench. When Howard returned to his sideline, he continued his show by making a below-the-belt gesture.
"Obviously we're all mad. We got our [tail] kicked and it looked like they laughed at us. Especially Dwight Howard laughed at us all the time," backup guard Tomas Satoransky said. "I think [Brooks] was mad at that fact, too. We got to change it. We've got a long trip; obviously it's not the way you want to start. It seems like we're always saying that."
Change happened by the fourth quarter as Brooks waved the white flag early with more than six minutes remaining and inserted players buried deep in the rotation. On Friday, the Wizards will continue this five-game trip in Detroit and things could look different by that game's tip.
"It's unacceptable the way we competed," Brooks said. "We're going to have change some things and make sure we're all going to compete. If not we're going to have find guys who are going to compete."