- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Finding the Washington Wizards a was easy a few days ago — simply look at the bottom of the NBA standings. But with a new coach in place, a couple of more wins in the books — including an all-important road win — the Wizards find themselves trying to become something more than the league’s cellar-dwellers.

With a quarter of the season gone in the compressed schedule, coach Randy Wittman knows he doesn’t have a lot of time to get his players to figure it all out.

“We’ve got to form an identity,” Wittman said before the team’s first road win of the season, a 102-99 decision Saturday.

“I’m trying to get these guys to understand that,” he continued. “We’re a young team. We’ve got to get an identity both offensively and defensively. Every night, that’s going to stay the same, whether we play Charlotte [Saturday] or Houston like we did [Friday].

“The game plan doesn’t change at all, it becomes a constant.”

The Wizards’ bad habits are easily identifiable — playing one-on-one ball instead of team ball, especially when their opponents take a lead; turnovers; and a lack of ability to close out games. Those stand out among the issues facing this group and are a big reason Washington is 4-16.

“It’s the problem a lot of young players have when they come to this league,” Wittman said. “When a team goes on an 8- or a 10-0 run, you almost go faster. They think, ‘I’m going to end this streak,’ instead of slowing down a little bit. You’ve got to turn your offense over, you’ve got to try to get a good shot, maybe get to the free throw line to break that streak. We’ve had a problem with that all year.”

“I’m really just hoping our guys focus on ourselves first and understand how we have to play, and then going into games against the opponent, it doesn’t change. The repetition of doing it over and over again, night in and night out will get you the wins that are due.”

The Wizards have won two of their past three, but both of those victories have come against the Bobcats (3-18), an equally flawed and injured team which was missing three starters. On Monday night at Verizon Center, the Wizards will face the league-leading Chicago Bulls, an entirely new level of competition.

But Wittman’s goal is to coax the Wizards into playing the same way, regardless of who they’re playing.

“I want people to know when they play us, [we’re] going to get out and run. It’s going to be a track meet up and down the floor, and we’ve got to be ready for that,” Wittman said. “That’s got to be our identity, but then also a team that takes care of the ball. That’s got to go along with that. We’re working on that second part.

“Defensively, we’ve got to be a ball-hawking pressure defense. No matter who we play, we’re not going to change.”

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