It’s right there on the screen. The same defensive breakdown. Another lost 50-50 ball. A missed box out.
If the Washington Wizards wanted to, they could use film from any of this season’s 27 losses. Playing the recording would show the same deficiencies, the ones that have kicked them to a tie for 28th in the league in rebounding percentage, 29th in opponent’s field-goal percentage, 30th, by a significant margin, in opponent’s 3-point shooting percentage.
Washington, 22-27, is on a carousel ride of frustration, and can’t get off.
“We see the same things we’ve been seeing for the last 40 games,” guard Garrett Temple said. “After 10 games, you might see the same things. Forty, 50 games in, you can’t be making the same mistakes. Things you have to get rid of. Not giving up layups. Being able to go after loose balls, 50-50 balls. Breakdowns on defense you can’t have happen. Those are plays we have to eliminate, as [coach Randy Wittman] puts it.”
Two games remain before the all-star break, each against fellow below-.500 teams, the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks. Temple termed them “winnable.” At the least, they are important. Washington is in search of some kind of positive vibe, a discernible foundation in its waffling season. Even the minimalist’s winning streak — back-to-back games before they disperse for seven days — would be of note.
Washington just can’t find the simple path. Last Saturday, when the Wizards went to Charlotte, they built a 19-point second-quarter lead. The margin only led to an eye-rolling four-point loss.
The unraveling was swift. With 2:29 to play in the second quarter, Washington led, 55-36. By halftime, the gap was reduced to 10 points. With 3:49 to play in the third quarter, the score was tied.
“We were careless,” Wittman said. “Lackadaisical. NBA game changes so quickly.”
Wittman is awaiting the arrival of consistent defensive play before he thinks about adjustments. He’s searching for a baseline to work from. Wittman again referenced a four-game winning streak in mid-January, when the Wizards appeared to be organized and set to vault forward. They are 3-8 since. The flashes of defensive competence cause Wittman to search for something to uphold as opposed to reconfigure it.
“Give me a reason to change it by showing it’s not successful [when we do it right],” Wittman said. “Our good string of success comes from our defense. When we’re doing it, we’re pretty successful. There’s no need to tweak if you’re not doing it. We’ve got to get to doing it first.”
There is another lacking element here. A season after preferring punch-to-the-face subtleness with their style of play, the Wizards have discarded their rough edges. Wittman and Temple repeated Monday what others have said earlier in the season: Washington is not physical enough. Playing smaller lineups is a natural contributor to a reduction in rebounding, though in theory, smaller lineups should be swifter and more capable of corralling loose balls. Instead, that’s also viewed as a problem. The missing physical play is not a recent development.
“We never had it this season,” Temple said. “We haven’t had it yet this season. We’ve had it for spurts. For a 10-game stretch, I don’t think we’ve had it for 10 games. When we had that four-game winning streak, we were physical. That’s why we were able to win games. That’s the team that we are. Physicalness doesn’t just come from hitting guys, having hard fouls. Physicalness comes from cracking down, flying around, helping your teammate out. We’re not physical enough on the defensive end.”
“We’re not a physical beat ‘em up team, [but] you can still be physical,” Wittman said. “You can be the slightest guy but still be physical. Being physical is first to the ball. Again, in games like Charlotte, 50-50 balls were definitely in their favor. And, when you’re physical, you’re more apt to control those types of things.”
Both the Knicks, Tuesday’s opponent, and the Bucks, Thursday’s opposition, begin the week on five-game losing streaks. New York fired coach Derek Fisher on Monday. The Wizards are a better road than home team. So, two inviting chances to change what’s on film come this week. Otherwise, it will just be reruns against after the all-star break.
Note: Nene (calf) and Kris Humphries (knee) both practiced on Monday. Nene expects to play against New York. Alan Anderson (ankle) did not practice and is yet to play this season.