- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2017

John Wall’s honesty kicked in again Tuesday night.

“Oh, we do this every year,” Wall said.

That is unfortunate and true.

Wall smirked when saying it. Not because he was being sarcastic. But because of the accuracy of his statement following another bad, early season loss predicated in lackluster defense. He had seen this before. Here it was again.

First, it was the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. That was followed by the home loss to the Phoenix Suns. Then, Tuesday arrived to trump those in misery. Washington lost to one of the worst teams in the league, the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas was 1-10 coming into the game, had lost six in a row, and was 0-5 on the road.

It turned a hot start Tuesday into a 14-point lead. Dallas scored a season-high 113 points. A team that was 29th in the league in field-goal percentage shot 62.5 percent in the first quarter. The bad defense started on the opening possession when Wall lost Dennis Smith Jr., who dunked an alley-oop off a scripted play. Smith blew by Wall on the next possession to set up a layup for Dirk Nowitzki. Wall noted afterward that the rookie was able to get woeful Dallas going. He was partly responsible for that being the case.

The Wizards have dipped to 5-5 and 20th in defensive rating. They are a bad rebounding team (another hallmark of poor overall defense) and causing few turnovers in their losses to mediocre competition.

Last season, the Wizards opened 2-8. The logical reasons for that start were easy to see. Wall was sitting out the second night of back-to-back games after offseason knee surgery. Scott Brooks was in his first regular-season month with his new team after changing the offense and defense. Washington needed to move through a learning stage before finding ways to excel, which it did midseason when it won 17 consecutive home games. By the end, the Wizards had won 49 games, the Southeast Division title for the first time in 38 years and were the fourth-best team in the Eastern Conference.

Go back a year prior. The Wizards’ 2-0 start downshifted to a 6-8 record by the end of November. Randy Wittman was the coach then. But, his message was similar to the one Brooks keeps delivering: play defense.

Wittman delivered the thought with a more gruff style. He called the team “soft” postgame or grumbled about its ego, saying, “I don’t know who we think we are…”

Brooks uses more congenial phrasing for the same ideas. He has said the opposition was “more physical” than the Wizards. He has said that action is now required, not more talking. Tuesday night, clearly fed up despite his upbeat persona, Brooks touted consistency in message, even if Washington was delivering inconsistent defensive results.

“It’s going to be the same message from me and the players are going to continue to hear it,” Brooks said. “We have to be a defensive team that can score, and not a scoring team that can play defense when we score. It just has to be that way. That’s how you win in this league, in the way that we think we can win. We just have to do it. We have to get better. They’re going to hear the same message, I’m not changing. Like I said, we have enough good players to figure it out. It’s early, but 20 games is early, 30 games, yeah, it’s still early. I don’t believe in that philosophy, early is game one. That’s what you’re supposed to do is play with great effort game one.”

The three early losses to presumably inferior opponents has killed the chance for a start that could distance the Wizards from the other stalwarts in the Eastern Conference, even modestly. Considering the time of year, any gap could easily be closed by the end of the season. But, that doesn’t mean Washington, dripping with continuity, would not benefit from a strong start while other contenders (Hello, Cleveland) staggered.

Instead, the Wizards are just a .500 team, already 3 ½ games behind the first-place Boston Celtics. Wall is repeating himself, “We just did not guard anybody.” Bradley Beal is repeating himself, “I probably sound insane trying to tell you something different but it’s the same thing over and over.,” Beal said. Brooks has been saying the same thing since he was given the job in 2016.

The question now is if anyone is listening and prepared to act.

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