Last Spring ,the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks met in a first-round playoff series that could have gone either way, depending on a few breaks. This season the Hawks are in full rebuild mode while the Wizards carried expectations of staying among the Eastern Conference elite.
After the Wizards lost in Atlanta to a Hawks team with the NBA’s worst record, the entire team took stock while speaking to the media.
“We have a great win the other night and then we come in here and not play with the same intensity,” said Wizards coach Scott Brooks. “You get graded on 82 nights, not 70, not 75.”
The Wizards are firmly entrenched among a group of six Eastern Conference teams that are within two games of each other, but lag behind the top three of Boston, Toronto and Cleveland. The Wizards proved it could compete with that upper echelon with a 111-103 win in Boston over the East-leading Celtics but had a severe letdown two nights later in Atlanta.
Brooks talked about how Washington repeatedly let the Hawks back in the game after building leads in the first half.
“We couldn’t get any stops, we were taking bad shots and then we gave them hope,” said Brooks. “Once that happened, we couldn’t turn that off. They were making shots, they were playing at a higher speed than us. They beat us on back doors. They beat us on pin-downs. They beat us in transition.”
As Brooks rattled off his laundry list of shortcomings, he made sure to include the coaching staff among the culpable parties.
“We’ve got to stay focused on guarding your man and tonight we struggled with that,” said Brooks. “It’s unacceptable. I take the blame as much as the players take it. We all are responsible for this.”
Wizards point guard John Wall joined in the soul-searching in the visitor’s locker room.
“It’s like you play well in Boston, we play as a team, we move the ball very well,” said Wall. “We’re playing team defense and doing the little things to help us win, even when we went through adversity. Tonight we didn’t do that. And that’s the reason why we lost.”
A recurring theme for Wall is when the Wizards struggle on the offensive end, then allow those struggles to bleed into the defense. He revisited that theme after Wednesday’s loss.
“We’re just not playing team basketball,” said Wall. “We have leads. We let those go away. We get away from moving the ball, and then when guys are not making shots or we’re not playing well offensively, we let it affect what we do defensively. That’s what hurt us.”
Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal echoed Wall’s thoughts concisely.
“We were too selfish, offensively and defensively,” said Beal. “It’s frustrating because it’s the inconsistencies that’s killing us. Played great against Boston and we don’t carry it over. That’s not a good trip.”
The Wizards won’t have much time to lick their wounds as the team will host the Houston Rockets—which trail only the Golden State Warriors for the NBA’s best record—on Friday. Beal talked about the importance of not giving in to frustration.
“It’s definitely frustrating, but I don’t want to give in to that,” said Beal. “We’re so consumed and worrying about stuff that shouldn’t matter during the game instead of winning the game. That trumps everything else.”
Beal went further with his analysis of Washington’s struggles moving the ball.
“Sometimes we do one pass shots, no pass shots, two or three passes on one side of the floor versus moving on both sides of the floor,” said Beal. “Teams are going to load up on me and John. That’s something we should know by now. We’ve got to do a better job of creating and putting the ball on the floor and moving it.
“Everybody as a collective unit — starters and the bench — we’ve got to be better at it. Sometimes we have those moments where it’s not enough passes. We’ve just got to get the ball moving, get some movement. Sometimes we’re too stagnant and it hurts us.”
Brooks lingered on themes of taking the opponent lightly and failure to answer the bell defensively.
“We thought it was going to be an easy night,” said Brooks with frustration writ plainly across his face. He added that the team’s failure to contain shooting guard Marco Belinelli was part of Washington’s undoing.
“Belinelli came in and lit us up, scored nine quick points,” said Brooks. “Bud [Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer] did us a favor by taking him out in that second quarter. He probably would have had 30 tonight. Everybody in this league, they can play. They’re not in here because it’s [a] charity position. And if you don’t take responsibility in guarding the man in front of you, that’s what happens.”
It’s just one game in December but, to a man, the Wizards were extremely critical of and disappointed in the team’s performance.
Washington is currently fifth in the East, but it’s clear the team is not living up to the standards it set for itself. As Brooks said, you’re judged on 82 games. There are no nights off.
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