WASHINGTON (AP) — Randy Wittman’s patience was understandably in short supply.
His Washington Wizards had just finished losing by 38 points — the team’s biggest home defeat in 40 years, and its latest in a series of setbacks against top Eastern Conference opponents.
So the coach allowed for all of three words to be uttered by the reporter asking the opening question at Wittman’s news conference following Washington’s 127-89 loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.
The query began with the phrase, “It looked like,” and Wittman interrupted to say: “We were still on break?”
His point: Instead of seeing the Wizards come out of the week-plus All-Star layoff with a sense of urgency, he watched players sleepwalk through a high-turnover, poor-shooting, lax-defense performance.
“They hit us in the mouth, right from the jump ball, and we couldn’t recover from it,” Wittman said, removing his horn-rimmed glasses and crossing his arms.
“I’ve got to find a way to get our nastiness back, our edge back,” he continued. “We didn’t defend. We didn’t take anything away. That’s what we do. And when we don’t, we’re not very good.”
They haven’t been very good for quite some time.
Led by All-Star point guard John Wall, the Wizards started 19-6 a year after getting to the second round of the playoffs, sparking talk about their proper place in the East’s hierarchy. But since then, they’ve gone 14-16 heading into Sunday’s game at Detroit.
And against some of the conference’s best, Washington has been at its worst, going 1-8 against Atlanta, Toronto and Cleveland.
“We know we lost to those guys, but we know what we can do when we don’t turn the ball over. Every time we lost to those teams, we turned the ball over a lot and they did whatever they wanted,” said Wall, who had four of Washington’s 17 turnovers Friday.
It didn’t help that the Wizards were missing shooting guard Bradley Beal for a fourth consecutive game with an injured right leg.
Still, Wall thought some teammates “looked like they were fatigued and tired” against Cleveland, and he mentioned in passing that when the Wizards returned to practice after the All-Star break, “A lot of guys were like, ‘Why were we running so much?'”
Another big problem: Washington went 1 for 16 on 3-point tries, while allowing Cleveland to go 14 of 33.
“It was a mix of a lot of different things today,” center Marcin Gortat told reporters. “I don’t think you guys have enough space on the recorders to mention all of them.”
According to STATS, the franchise hadn’t dropped a home game by this large a margin since a 111-71 loss to Golden State in 1975.
“They beat us every which way possible,” said Paul Pierce, who had as many turnovers (three) as baskets against Cleveland. “Physically, they outworked us. They out-hustled us. Really didn’t have no defense for ’em.”
It was fascinating to hear Gortat and Pierce present conflicting accounts of how to solve the issues at that end of the court.
“Each one of us has to step in and play 1-on-1 defense. Simple as that. Just stop your guy in front of you. That’s it,” Gortat said. “You can’t rely constantly on help and help and help and stuff like that.”
When that was relayed to Pierce, he bristled.
“I don’t know what (Gortat) is talking about, because when you play a team game, you play help defense,” Pierce said. “If it was an individual sport, oh, well. But this is a team sport, and we rely on our help defense. As you see, we don’t have no extremely great individual defenders out there.”
Wittman sounded as if he wonders whether the Wizards’ strong start to the season is hurting them now.
“It’s hard to win games. It doesn’t come easy. And I think we thought it did there, for a while. We got comfortable,” the coach said. “It’s caught up to us a little bit. Coming off this break, that’s what it looked like. Their bodies were here; their minds weren’t.”
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