A.J. Price had something to prove. Going up against the team he played with for three seasons, Price had 12 points and a career-high 14 assists in the Wizards' 89-85 loss at Indiana on Saturday.
The Wizards (0-5) are one of two winless teams along with the Detroit Pistons (0-7). The Wizards, meanwhile, are hoping to avoid a repeat of last season, when they started 0-8 start.
Price is searching for a few positives.
"We're making good strides as a team," he told reporters Saturday. "We're in every game, which I guess is like a gift and a curse. You'd like to win some games. It's just little things that we need to correct. It's just execution down the stretch."
Price, 26, finds himself in a role he wasn't expecting. After three seasons with the Pacers in which he struggled to find playing time as a backup point guard, Price signed with the Wizards in the offseason expecting to come off the bench behind John Wall.
With Wall sidelined with a left patella injury, Price has been moved into a starting role. Starting center Nene also is sidelined with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and Price's backcourt running mate is a rookie, Bradley Beal.
Beal's fast learning curve has been another positive. After two dreadful games, when he missed 11 of 13 shots and looked tentative, Beal has looked like a different player in the past three games, scoring 16, 22 and 17 points, and is becoming comfortable with a more aggressive style of play.
"He's got to continue to do that," Wizards coach Randy Wittman told reporters. "He's growing and getting more confident. He's attacking more. Still, I think he has areas to do that more."
With Jordan Crawford now part of the Wizards' walking wounded, slowed by a sprained left ankle, Beal understands he hasn't got time to ease into his role.
"I just have to be conscious of it," Beal said. "If I shoot the ball two times in a row down the floor, it's hard for me to shoot the third one because I feel like a ball hog."
Price says it's the last thing Beal needs to worry about. After Beal's team-leading 22 points against Milwaukee, Price just hopes to see the rookie to keep it up.
"He asserted himself from the beginning of the game, which was good to see," Price said. "I think that early confidence he gained, he carried throughout the game."
But an improving Beal is just one piece of the team's broken-down, injury-plagued puzzle. It's also been a tale of two squads for the Wizards, with either the starters playing well and the bench faltering, or vice-versa. Though five games, the team has yet to see both units play well.
The Wizards also are averaging a league-worst 88 points and give up an average of 94.6 points. Price says it's a matter of improving their offensive execution, especially at the end of games. He's looking to himself to fix what's ailing his team.
"It falls on the point guard," Price said. "The point guard has to get us in the right sets and make sure we get a shot up. That's what we haven't been doing yet [execution], and that falls on me."
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