Saturday night was a pick-your-poison game for the Washington Wizards, there was a myriad of reasons for their 92-76 loss against the Charlotte Bobcats. When people look back on this game, they’ll wonder how the Wizards managed to look so good in Friday night’s post-Thanksgiving win in Miami, but then came out at home the next night like a grandpa loopy on leftover tryptophan trying to dribble a basketball with gloves on. The Bobcats stuffed the Wizards like turkeys from the time the oven was turned on to when the dishes were being done and put away.
The problems: Some may cite continued offensive woes. One fan so eloquently exclaimed, “Hey Flip your offense [insert non-complimentary word]!,” as the masses exited the Phone Booth with four minutes left and the Wizards down more than twenty. Others (pretty much every player who talked in the locker room after the game), continuously regurgitated the theme of energy (or lack thereof). Energy seems to be the biggest obstacle facing the Wizards, especially since no one knows how to interject it upon this team of feigning hope.
But the Wizards’ issues can be broken down by quarter as well. Let’s take a look:
When I asked Coach Saunders what in the box score stood out to him (aside from shooting 39% from the field), he said, “Early we just got killed on the boards, first half offensive rebounds. You just can’t give them so many second chance opportunities.” For the game, Charlotte would only end up with nine offensive boards and 12 second-chance points, but that five and eight in the first quarter remains a prime example of lack of focus and energy.
Saunders took longer than usual to get to his post game press conference. Well, about the same as the Piston loss (I think). Many figured that just like that game, nary a player would be around the locker room (as they usually are able to go once Saunders is done talking to them, or at least depart using the other exit out of the training room) … save for Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood (and usually Antawn Jamison too); the normal batch of delayed locker room souls.
However, after Saunders’ presser, the locker room was still held impenetrable for a couple moments upon the media’s arrival to the threshold. Was there a players-only meeting? The only players who had left upon our ultimate entry (by my calculation/estimation) were Mike Miller, Mike James and Javaris Crittenton (the three inactives) — Dominic McGuire could be with this group, I can’t completely recall.
I asked Haywood if they had a players-only meeting and he curtly said “No we did not.” … but Haywood wasn’t much in the mood for talking anyway. A colleague and I discussed how he looked a tad perturbed when Fabricio Oberto checked in for him at the 4:43 mark of the third with the Wizards down 16. And unfortunately Haywood was the only person I asked about the occurrence of a meeting.
But when we were let into the clubhouse, there was a commotion over some fancy sneakers that only rich people should buy, but a lot of people without the means probably do buy. Some have thrown around the brand name Louis Vuitton, which were seemingly being doled out by Gilbert Arenas as a front-man for the package. Mike Jones and Michael Lee have written about this NBA millionaire consumerism and questioned its appropriateness. Personally, I’m not sure the designer shoes have much to do with a distaste for losing … just probably a distraction that kept Nick Young tardily hanging around, allowing himself to get interview-trapped by the media.
Still, when on the court wearing basketball gear made more for functionality than fashion, the Wizards have been not able to focus for a consistent period of time. Sure, cite energy and not “coming out flat” until blue in the face … but playing at a high level requires the focus to channel energy toward the right kind of effort. The Wizards are clearly not doing this.
After the game, Coach Saunders used “disappointed, embarrassed, and mad” to describe how the Wizards played … and all three of those came in succession in the same sentence. One could say that the lackadaisical start was mostly on the players, but Saunders also took some blame. “I told the guys, ‘I wasn’t good tonight,’ because when you fall behind like that, you start searching,” said Flip in reference to some of the quirky lineups he was forced to use.
A unit of Earl Boykins, Caron Butler, Dominic McGuire, Andray Blatche and Fabricio Oberto finished plus-three to end the third, but that could mostly be due to the nine points Butler scored between the 6:04 and the 2:15 mark of the period. The ‘plus-3′ lineup wasn’t inserted until the 3:28 mark when McGuire and Boykins came in for Young and Arenas. The starters (Arenas, Young, Butler, Jamison & Haywood) began the third with a minus-6. When Oberto and Blatche came in to the surprise of Haywood and Jamison at the 4:43 mark, that lineup had a minus-6 as well.
Where the Wizards go from here is anyone’s guess. The players seem to believe that most problems will be cured with more time and practice. They continuously cite the need for more energy, but no one seems to know how to achieve it. Coach Saunders spoke of his team lacking a sense of urgency. He bit the bullet saying, “We (the coaching staff) didn’t do what we needed to do to get [the team] in the proper [mind] frame to understand how good Charlotte was playing, how hard they play.”
An inability to come together on offense is understandable. An inability for some players to have trouble acclimating themselves to the game after being out, or changing their games in new surroundings, is understandable. What’s incomprehensible and inexcusable is how the Wizards have consistently displayed minimal will-power to win games on a nightly basis. What happened to the excitement of the preseason? What happened to the anxiousness to play the game of basketball? What happened to the camaraderie? … The togetherness?
The onus of blame falls on the shoulders of both coaches and players. But if this Wizards team expects to be anywhere come March, the players need to stop shrugging their shoulders at the season being early and blowout losses being just another game because “that’s the NBA.” The players shouldn’t push the often cited panic button (as if anyone would ever make a button specifically for panicking), but they do need to start busting their butt and showing that sense of urgency by beating other teams in hustle stats. Once that happens, the rest of the game will be made easier.