- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Leaning against a flimsy backdrop just outside the Washington Wizards’ practice court, coach Randy Wittman provided a midseason stump speech.

Only a few questions were necessary to produce almost 10 minutes of emphatic commentary from the 55-year-old coach. Monday night, he watched the Wizards lose their third consecutive game. They are 9-10 over their last 19 games. He’s heard and seen enough.

“We had a heart-to-heart,” Wittman said. “We needed a heart-to-heart [Monday] night. We needed to get in the gym [Tuesday] and get dirty a little bit. Get back to understanding the basics of what our principles are and who we are as a team. That was the most beneficial thing of today. We’ve got to fight through.”

The truncated version of Wittman’s comments about his 31-18 team would go like this: Stop the excuses and get back to work.

The Wizards just finished a fluctuating January before starting February with a sleepy Monday night effort in a 92-88 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. They were 9-8 in January, with a high point of back-to-back wins against the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls. They also twice lost 14-point leads against the surging Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder. The lowly Brooklyn Nets blew them out in Verizon Center. They squeaked out an overtime win in Denver during a four-game road trip. They lost in overtime at home to the Toronto Raptors last Saturday.

Monday’s loss was particularly irritating for the Wizards because Charlotte became just the second team this season to score less than 100 points against Washington and win. The Wizards are 25-2 when their opponent is held below triple digits. A month ago, Wittman claimed, the Wizards would have put together a gritty enough performance to beat Charlotte despite “sloppy” offense. Not so now, when players are lamenting soreness, illness or playing time.

“It’s how you react to tough times,” Wittman said. “Everybody goes through them. Doesn’t matter who it is in this league. You’re going to go through a rough patch. And, how you get out of it. Do you feel sorry for yourself and wallow in that mud a little bit longer than you should be in that mud? Or get yourself out of there? That’s what we’ve got to do.”

Monday night, Wittman hammered out similar points. He said the team “doesn’t play hard anymore,” and he would take the blame for that. He also said it points fingers as opposed to trying to fix personal ailments. Paul Pierce is in his 17th season. He agrees with Wittman that a defensive focus is key, though he’s seen much more significant internal dissatisfaction on other teams.

“You have that at certain times throughout the season,” Pierce said. “I think sometimes it’s just mental fatigue. At the end of the day, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror. We can’t be ones that point fingers at one another — not to say that’s what’s going on in this locker room ­— but, we have to look ourselves in the mirror, look at the tape, and ask yourself, ‘What can I do better to make this team better?’

“Every team at some point has some adversity. … The good thing about this team is everybody talks to one another. The thing is, everybody has to be able to listen to one another. We’ve got to be able to have better body language on the court when things get rough. Just some small things. We don’t have a lot of major things in our locker room. I’ll take the things that we have on this team compared to some of these other teams.”

Tuesday was a high volume day for Wittman. He recalled having good games on days he was sick or sore, either at Indiana University or during his NBA seasons as a player. He acknowledged the current weather is not enjoyable — “It’s snowin’ and blowin’ and cold and your chapped lips and you come in here and you don’t feel good …” — and that he does not, by any means, enjoy losing.

“I know my wife’s pretty upset with me the way I handle losing sometimes,” Wittman said.

He also warns that resurrection is not always immediate. It may be a process, akin to the progressive reduction in defensive determination Wittman feels the team has gone through. Wednesday will not present a get-well game. Instead, it’s a road game against the Eastern Conference’s best team, the 40-9 Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta is dealing with a microscopic form of adversity. Its loss Monday night snapped a 19-game winning streak. Yet, the mighty Hawks will present a mini-starting point for the Wizards during their final five games before the All-Star break.

“We got to get our edge back,” Pierce said.

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