- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2017

On Wednesday night, the Wizards flushed a 22-point lead against the Phoenix Suns, a young team that fired its coach three games into the season and was playing the second night of a back-to-back.

The collapse came on the heels of another poor outing last week against another young team, the Los Angeles Lakers, which also ended in a surprising loss. Losing to Phoenix was a double-down, and left Bradley Beal particularly Irritated.

“For us to sit here and act like we’re somebody, we’re not [expletive] right now,” Beal said after Wednesday’s loss.

The 4-3 Wizards now face a Friday night match-up against the even more adrift Cleveland Cavaliers (3-5) — two contenders seemingly weighed down by their assumed superiority early in the season.

“We haven’t proven nothin’, we haven’t done nothin’” Beal said. “So, we’ve got to stay aggressive at all times. We’ve got to realize that we’re a targeted team. Teams want to beat us. Until we get that in the back of our heads, we’re going to continue to play this way. We’ve got to play with some confidence, a sense of urgency and aggressiveness on the defensive end, not offensively, straight defense. We’re not defending a soul. Period.”

There is no lurking veteran to explain in the locker room that the performances against Phoenix and against the Lakers, are unacceptable. It’s on John Wall and Beal. Their paychecks say so. Their time in the league supplements the thought.

It’s also not a panic-filled situation. Washington has been without starting power forward Markieff Morris for the first seven games. Starting small forward Otto Porter missed Wednesday’s game because he was sick. The Wizards are 4-3 instead of a should-be 6-1. It could be worse. They could be Cleveland.

The Cavaliers have lost four consecutive games. Beal’s rant about Washington’s defense could have been applied to Cleveland. The Cavaliers are a staggering 29th in defensive rating early in the season. Only Dallas, which may win 30 games this season, is worse. For all their woes, the Wizards are 13th.

Cleveland pulled the time-tested move of a team meeting Tuesday. It had been bad defensively, talked about fixing it, then was bad defensively again. So, the Cavaliers held a meeting. They gave up 124 points to the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

“A lot of teams are playing well right now,” LeBron James said afterward. “We’re not. That’s just a simple fact.”

The shared inability to guard the opposition diffuses possible hoopla around Friday night. The Eastern Conference storyline to open the season was the same as it has been for years: Who can topple Cleveland?

Washington, Boston, Toronto, Milwaukee those were the names on the brief list of possible challengers in a short-changed Eastern Conference. Boston, despite the gruesome injury to Gordon Hayward, is 6-2 because it has the best defensive rating in the league. The Bucks are 4-4 despite the emergence of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Toronto is going through a middling start, 4-3, akin to that of the Wizards. Oddly, the Orlando Magic are atop the Eastern Conference, a situation that would stun all if it lasted until spring.

Morris is expected to make his season debut Friday. Porter also should return. His illness had kept Washington’s most effective player to start the season out of practice Tuesday, then off the floor Wednesday. Porter was back at practice Thursday.

Washington can be pleased its team will be intact for the first time this season. Now, they just need to play some defense.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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