WASHINGTON (AP) — After the Washington Wizards lost for the fifth time in six games under new coach Scott Brooks, shooting guard Bradley Beal stood in the home locker room and spoke in hushed tones, trying to wrap his head around what’s gone wrong so far.
“We don’t want to be 1-5 right now. Everybody’s frustrated. Everybody’s mad,” Beal said. “At the end of the day, we all got to look at ourselves in the mirror individually first, before we start pointing fingers. Just try to figure out how we can get better. We all got to play better individually, one through 15.”
The problems are adding up already for a club that made two consecutive trips to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs before going 41-41 and missing out last season, costing Brooks’ predecessor, Randy Wittman, his job.
A .500 record would sound great at this point; only the Philadelphia 76ers, at 0-6, are worse in the East. Heading into Wednesday’s game against the visiting Boston Celtics – and things don’t get any easier after that, with LeBron James and the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers in town on Friday – the Wizards are among the league’s poorest defensive teams, and they’re not scoring all that much, either.
Hardly an ideal combination. And Brooks thinks there’s a connection, because when his players aren’t putting the ball in the basket, he senses that they lose the will to keep opponents from racking up points.
“That happens, and that’s not a good trait for a basketball team. You can’t ride the roller coaster of making shots, because if you have a great night, you’re (still) going to miss half your shots. And in order to have a great defensive night, you can’t have that dictate your defensive intensity, your defensive disposition,” Brooks said Monday night after Washington’s 114-106 loss to James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
The Wizards allowed the Rockets to make 52 percent of their field-goal attempts, including 46 percent of their 3-pointers.
“We’re not going to pitch a no-hitter,” Brooks added. “When they made a couple shots, we got down, and we’ve got to correct that.”
The type of stretch he’s talking about came against Houston in the second quarter, when Washington missed 10 shots in a row during a 16-0 run for the visitor.
Afterward, an irritated-sounding Brooks criticized his players for not putting forth maximum defensive effort for a game’s full 48 minutes, saying: “We’ve talked about it enough. Now we have to do it.”
It echoed Wittman’s frequent lament about his team’s defense, and the numbers are pretty stark this season.
Washington is tied for the worst opponent 3-point shooting percentage in the 30-club NBA at 39.5, and ranks second-worst in overall shooting-percentage defense at 46.7. The Wizards are giving up 105.5 points per game.
All-Star point guard John Wall, who broke Hall of Famer Wes Unseld’s franchise record for career assists before getting ejected in the final minute Monday, conceded that Brooks is correct. He pointed to problems in transition defense, in particular, and allowing open tries on 3s.
“We just have lapses,” Wall said. “When we turn the ball over or take bad shots, we have lapses where we don’t get back.”
Part of the bigger-picture problem is that Washington is not able to overcome its defensive woes with its offense: It’s one of only nine teams in the league averaging under 100 points (98.7) and ranks 27th in 3-point shooting percentage (29.4).
It’s adding up to loss after loss for a club that began the season expecting a return to the playoffs.
“We know there’s a lot of games left,” Wall said, “but you can’t keep falling back any further.”
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