Wizards struggle to stay positive through disheartening campaign


JaVale McGee, right, and the Wizards have lost their past three games by a combined 58 points. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

After 12 games, the Washington Wizards have one win and plenty of reason to wonder when, how, and certainly, if, the turnaround is coming this season. Off to the worst start in franchise history, the Wizards have struggled to score, have been unable to defend on the nights they managed to score, and haven’t been in many competitive games.

Washington (1-11) has the league’s worst record and point differential, getting outscored by an average of 12.2 points. They have only lost four games by fewer than nine points. Since defeating the Toronto Raptors to snap an eight-game slide to start the season, the Wizards have lost their past three games to Chicago and Philadelphia by a combined 58 points.

“We got to stay positive, through everything. We have to find something to get your spirits going, and stay focused out there,” Nick Young said after the Wizards lost, 103-90, to the 76ers on Saturday. “Ain’t nobody going to take it easy on us. They are going to keep going, keep killing us.”

The Wizards’ winning percentage of .083 would put them on pace to finish with the all-time worst record. The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers had the worst 82-game season in NBA history, winning just nine games and posting a winning percentage of .123.

Four teams in NBA history — including those nine-win 76ers — have opened the season 0-12. Six others have started the season 1-11, but none since the 2000-01 Chicago Bulls. When asked to rate the frustration level for the Wizards, JaVale McGee said, “Highly frustrated because I definitely don’t like losing.”

Young admitted that getting up for each game has been a challenge, with the Wizards often stepping on the court as the inferior squad. He spoke with his parents for encouragement after the team suffered its worst loss of the season, 120-89, on Friday in Philadelphia. Young responded by scoring a season-high 27 points the next night, and the Wizards finished with more rebounds and a better field goal percentage than the 76ers — but the end result was the same.

“It’s tough. It’s real tough. I ain’t going to lie,” Young said. “It’s hard, but it’s basketball. The game I love. This is the game everybody wanted to do when they was kids, so we have to find something.”

The Wizards have been unable to hide their disappointment with the difficult start, with slouched shoulders and sullen faces becoming the most common sights on the court. They’ve been booed at home and lost all but one of their road games by at least 14 points. An NBA scout who watched the Wizards’ 31-point loss Friday said the body language was so bad that it looked as if every player wanted to be taken out of the game.

John Wall has looked the most flustered and detached this season. He couldn’t handle losing last season, but the team has regressed and he does a poorer job of concealing his annoyance. “I’m struggling at the beginning. Things haven’t been great in the second year,” Wall said recently. “As a basketball player, you always have to be competitive when you’re on the basketball court. That’s my motivation.”

Wall had trouble looking engaged in the first half on Saturday, when he had six points and seven turnovers. But he recovered to score 13 points, with eight rebounds, six assists and one turnover in the second half, helping the Wizards cut a 20-point lead in half.

“When you get your butts kicked pretty bad, and we’ve lost a lot, the tendency is to start feeling sorry for yourself. But then you kind of just go out there and you make those kind of mistakes and the basketball gods have a way of getting to you,” Coach Flip Saunders said. “So [Wall] just decided ‘Hey, I better go out and play. It’s not going to happen unless I make it happen.’ ”

Saunders said the Wizards “have a small margin for error” and believes his players still need to develop more chemistry, especially with Andray Blatche’s strained right shoulder injury expected to keep him out of the rotation for an undetermined amount of time.

He made his players come in for a short practice on Sunday, even though they had just completed a set of four games in five days. With their next four games at home — beginning with Monday’s matinee at Verizon Center against the Houston Rockets — veteran Rashard Lewis said the Wizards have an opportunity to raise their spirits.

“We got to lift each other up. We got to have confidence within each other and go out there and try to win games, knowing that we have a home stretch coming up,” Lewis said. “Hopefully, we can get a couple wins playing at home and give our fans something to cheer about.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.

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