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On Slow Starts And The Need For A Change To Fix Them

There were lots of stories and quotes that came out of the Washington Wizards' 103-85 loss to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, but this one from Carla Peay's game story in the Washington Times caught my eye.

"In all our games, we’ve shot about 20 percent in the first quarter," Flip Saunders said. "We’re going to have to do something with our starters, personnel-wise or whatever, but somehow we’ve got to have some juice to start games."

Indeed, slow starts, among other things, have killed the Wizards. Since the New Jersey game, here are the first-quarter scores in the Wizards' other five losses:

  • at Atlanta: 26-17, Hawks.
  • at Milwaukee: 36-24, Bucks.
  • vs. Boston: 28-17, Celtics.
  • at Boston: 24-23, Wizards
  • at Orlando: 31-14, Magic.

Perhaps more importantly, here are the scores after the first timeout called in the first quarter:

  • at Atlanta: 11-0, Hawks
  • at Milwaukee: 14-10, Bucks
  • vs. Boston: 14-9, Celtics
  • at Boston: 16-10, Celtics
  • at Orlando: 9-0, Magic

In other words, the Wizards have been outscored by an average of 9.6 points in the first quarter and by an average of seven points before the first extended stoppage in play, which has often been caused by a Saunders timeout. That's really bad.

Doug Collins, the current coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, used to say as a broadcaster that the NBA is a first-quarter league, because that's when you can best measure if a team is ready to play. It's also the time of the game when teams establish what works and do whatever possible to get certain guys into the rhythm of the game. The Wizards are failing dramatically at this task, and while an NBA game is long, you can't really ask a team to catch up once they fall behind early.

Something does need to change to stop this trend. Saunders should consider some sort of lineup change to start. If that fails, then the problem is far bigger and falls directly on his inability to get his team ready to play.