We knew the Wizards would struggle without John Wall and Nene in the lineup to start the season. Even an elite team, which Washington certainly is not, would labor to replace its two best players. Viewing the Wizards through that lens casts them in a more forgiving, sympathetic light.
But the strongest pair of rose-colored glasses can't obscure the hideous basketball we've witnessed for large stretches during Washington's 0-7 start. The Wizards who suit up and take the floor for coach Randy Wittman have been shockingly awful, among the league's worst performers by several measures besides wins and losses. All of that wretchedness can't be attributed to two players' absence.
"We've got to keep fighting," Wittman told reporters Wednesday night, after Washington became the NBA's lone winless team. "We haven't had too many nights where we haven't fought. Here and there are things that we have to do better and be more consistent at."
You have to find small victories when actual triumphs are scarce. At least they have mastered that art, opposed to putting the ball in the basket. Except for the sixth game, when they were blown out Tuesday by the Charlotte Bobcats, the Wizards have scratched and clawed their way to narrow defeats, usually after falling behind by large margins.
In the season opener, Washington trailed Cleveland by 16 points in the third quarter. Opening night at Verizon Center saw Boston take a 16-point lead in the first quarter. The Wizards have trailed by double digits in every game except against Indiana; Milwaukee and Dallas enjoyed leads of at least 20 points.
But only the Bobcats have won by more than 10 points, a 92-76 rout in Washington's most pitiful effort to date. The Wizards showed no character and less composure in the loss, playing into Charlotte's hands by hoisting 31 three-pointers and hitting just five, resorting to a style of "hero ball" despite their lack of qualified applicants.
To their credit, the Wizards returned to their competitive ways against Dallas, although the 107-101 loss, coupled with Detroit's win, left Washington alone in the hasn't-won-a-game category. However, coming close doesn't change the perception of D.C. as a losing franchise, a mindset that likely bolsters opponents and influences officials, if only subconsciously.
Jacking up a bunch of threes isn't the answer for this squad, which seemed to get Wittman's message after the Charlotte game. Washington played much smarter and attacked the basket more often against the Mavericks, but didn't have much to show for it. Only Jordan Crawford, Martell Webster and Trevor Booker went to the free throw line as the Wizards had just 11 attempts compared to 33 by the opponent.
"For whatever reason, this team doesn't get any respect," Wittman said. "We got to the rim and had 11 free throws tonight. These young guys just have to make a name for themselves, and it's just baffling some of the things that are said to me by the refs for why they don't call it. So, maybe we just have to send the game film every day to the league."
Unless an outbreak of nausea is his goal, Wittman should refrain from inundating the league office with Wizards footage. No team gets to the line less than Washington (16.6 free throws per game). While that's largely because of shot selection, there's no mystery regarding the Wizards' lack of calls; they haven't earned them.
Talented and successful players get the benefit of the doubt on whistles. Marginal losers get a look and a shrug. Washington simply is too bad to be bailed out. Of the NBA's 30 teams, the Wizards are 27th in scoring (88.1 points per game), 28th in field goal percentage (.407), 29th in point differential (-7.9) and 30th in points in the paint (29.4).
Still, every other team at the bottom of league rankings has managed at least one win.
"We just have to keep fighting and not get discouraged," Wittman said. "But it's hard sometimes not to get discouraged. We can't get down."
Perhaps the addition of Shaun Livingston, signed Thursday to supplant the replaceable Jannero Pargo, can provide a boost. It won't make up for the continued absence of Wall and Nene, but those types of players aren't found on the NBA waiver list. The Wizards will have to muddle their way through until their star point guard and starting center are ready to go.
It probably won't be pretty in the meantime. But assuming they eventually win a game or two, better days are ahead.
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