OAKLAND, Calif. | A game away from the season’s halfway point after a lopsided loss at Golden State, the Washington Wizards understand that a fifth consecutive postseason is rather unlikely.
That, however, doesn’t mean the 8-32 Wizards are giving up on the season. The second half won’t feature a throwing-in-the-towel-type demise in an attempt to better position themselves to win the lottery for this summer’s draft, and it won’t be an attempt to give their younger players more experience for next year.
“I will not be a part of that,” team captain Antawn Jamison said. “We’re playing, and we’re playing to win.”
Said teammate Mike James: “Yeah, the fight’s still there. It’s got to be there. If it ain’t, it’s going to be even longer of a season, so we have no choice. We got to fight.”
Providing further evidence to the Wizards’ intentions, interim coach Ed Tapscott said he will continue to give his veterans the bulk of the playing time rather than handing their minutes over to the young players.
Injuries to proven veterans have given younger players increased playing time. Fourth-year forward Andray Blatche has started 18 of the last 19 games at center. Second-year forward Dominic McGuire has started the last 14 games.
But Blatche’s play remains erratic, and his lack of discipline at times hurts the Wizards. And McGuire, despite embracing his role as a defensive enforcer, remains a project as he averages 3.1 points and 4.3 rebounds.
Second-year guard Nick Young has sprouted into a more consistent scoring force off the bench but has to develop into more than just a scorer. Fellow guard Javaris Crittenton, who joined the team in December, is still developing as a point guard in Washington’s system.
The minutes remain limited for rookie center JaVale McGee and second-year forward Oleksiy Pecherov, and until each becomes more sound defensively, Tapscott has no plans to award them significant minutes.
“We’re looking to be a defensive team, and one of the things you have to do is play pick-and-rolls correctly,” he said. “You’ve got to play post-ups and isolations correctly. Mistakes at those times cost you dearly against a good offensive team. So now you’re looking for matchups and the proper reactions on defense, and those things just take time and experience. If you’re thinking too much in this game, you’re behind. You’ve got to have done it enough so it’s instinctual. You know it. Anticipate it. Some of our young guys are struggling to get to that point. That’s a process.”
In regard to McGee, who after starting 13 games was sent back to the bench to watch and learn more, Tapscott added: “I don’t fault him. He plays hard, gives his best effort. It’s just a lack of experience costs him and others in certain situations, and that will come with time.”
The quandary Tapscott faces, however, is balancing working toward winning with developing the young players. For now, he will continue to call upon his veterans, such as reliable forward/center Darius Songaila, who averages 5.9 points and 2.6 rebounds in just more than 17 minutes a game.
And while he will pick spots to give minutes to his project players, he insists they earn minutes by effort, performance and discipline.
“You win as a team, and you lose as a team. So everyone participates,” Tapscott said. “But there’s a difference between a good performance, and there’s a difference between a good offensive performance. We had a few good offensive performances tonight, but we didn’t have enough good performances tonight, and there is a distinction.”
By Elaine Donnelly
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