- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The winless Washington Wizards may or may not have held an extensive meeting after Tuesday’s 115-107 loss Tuesday to the Chicago Bulls — a fourth straight defeat to start the season. It’s harder to tell, in the COVID-19 era, given that reporters are prevented from getting anywhere close to the locker room. And players asked about whether such a meeting took place would neither confirm nor deny it happened.

But after a lengthy wait before speaking to the media, the Wizards stressed a similar message, a theme that carried over to the next day: They have to stick together.

The 0-4 Wizards, off to their worst start since 2012-13, have been unable to pinpoint a single reason for their struggles. 

Coach Scott Brooks said it’s a game of Whack-a-Mole: Swing at one problem, another pops up.

The analogy seems to fit. One night Washington’s offense is off, the next, the defense is missing.

Bradley Beal and others said the only way out of the team’s 0-4 hole is to stay calm and work to clean up the areas that have plagued them.

“We’re the only ones who are going to get us out of this funk,” Beal said. “It’s frustrating, but it’s not the end all be all. It’s not like, ‘Oh man, the world is going to end.’ We don’t have that feeling in here. Nobody’s mad at their teammate. It’s not that type of emotion. I feel like everybody is (ticked) off and I feel like that’s a good thing.”

Beal said Washington is channeling that anger in productive ways. After the team’s loss to the Bulls, the two-time All-Star declined to speak to reporters and instead spent additional time at the arena poring over film. Part of cleaning up mistakes, Beal said, is taking personal responsibility — and Beal said he has to cut down on his turnovers. He had five in Tuesday’s loss and is averaging a career-high four per game.

On Wednesday, Brooks led a lengthy film session to point out mistakes on both ends of the floor. For the second straight year, Washington’s defense is among the worst in the league. This season, they’ve been particularly bad in transition and allowing easy buckets. Against the Bulls, Brooks said Washington was overcommitting to help too aggressively.

Washington is still adjusting to star Russell Westbrook, as well. Westbrook was one of the few Wizards players Tuesday to have a positive plus-minus, meaning the team outscored Chicago when he was on the floor. But Washington’s offense can get cluttered when Westbrook drives to the rim and instead of passing to an open shooter, Westbrook will settle for a contested mid-range jumper. Other times, Westbrook passes to where he expects players to be — resulting in a turnover as the pass misses the mark.

Beal and Westbrook, though, have been largely fine. Westbrook is averaging a triple-double and Beal is scoring more than 30 points per game. The Wizards need more consistency from those around them, particularly from rotation pieces like Troy Brown Jr. and Davis Bertans.

Bertans has gotten off to a slow start as his minutes have been limited due to his conditioning. The Latvian sharpshooter, who signed a five-year, $80 million contract this offseason, showed up to camp in less-than-ideal physical shape as he wasn’t able to play five-on-five in his native Latvia. That put Bertans behind, forcing the team to manage his workload.

Bertans, though, seems to be turning a corner. He played a season-high 26 minutes and scored 20 points on 4 of 10 shooting. Bertans said he feels 60-to-70% of where his conditioning needs to be.

Bertans’ improvement should help Washington. So too will the return of Rui Hachimura, who will make his season debut Thursday after missing two weeks with a severe case of pink eye. Brooks made the surprise announcement Wednesday, telling reporters that Hachimura was ahead of the original three-week projection.

Through four games, Washington ranks 17th in points per game (111.8) and 23rd in offensive rating (104.7). The latter accounts for pace, where Washington ranks third.

“What is said in the locker room stays in the locker room, but I can tell you this: The only way we can get out of this is as a team,” Bertans said. “That’s basically the only way. Being negative about the four losses is not going to help us come back and win games.”


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