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Jazz vs. Wizards: Consistency, confidence is clearly lacking

The Washington Wizards lack consistency and confidence, and while their problems go much deeper, these issues are most fundamental.


WASHINGTON -- Two buzzwords dominated the Washington Wizards' locker room following yet another loss, this time to the Utah Jazz: "confidence," and "consistency."

They are just buzzwords, of course, used as shorthand to define a problem that takes many more words to accurately portray. From the outside looking in, it'd be foolish to suggest that the 0-8 Wizards would be cured with a little more confidence and a little more consistency. That conveniently ignores important things like "lack of talent" and "lack of offensive threats."

But inside a locker room, those buzzwords are fundamental concepts. If you don't believe you can fix a problem, you're never going to figure out what elements actually need to be fixed. If you're not always mentally prepared to make the contribution you are expected to make, you're never going to actually make that contribution. And so, here the Wizards are, a battered team that cannot lose the very reason to keep fighting.

"You got to play relaxed, you got to play confident. We've got to keep at it," Randy Wittman said, seemingly out of easy answers.

For Wittman in particular, the issue of consistency is especially vexing. He can't point to a single player that gives him the same contributions every night. Sometimes, Kevin Seraphin looks like the league's next dominant post scorer, and sometimes, like last night, he looks completely lost. Sometimes, Bradley Beal is making shots; sometimes, he's not and nothing else happens. Sometimes, Trevor Ariza is the open-court dynamo that Ernie Grunfeld thought he was getting when he traded for him last June; sometimes, he's a shot-clanker that stops giving a good enough defensive effort and doesn't help a team anywhere. Sometimes, Chris Singleton is aggressive; sometimes, he stands back and lets himself get pushed around.

"In a perfect world, I'd have eight or nine guys and I'd play them every night. They know when they're coming in, who's starting, who's coming off the bench," Wittman said. "I'm sometimes right now not knowing who's going to play tonight. Who's up, who's down. We just don't have the consistency of, really, anybody."

This, of course, begs several questions. Are the players not taking enough steps to be mentally ready to play? Are they letting outside forces dictate their effort? Does Wittman need to do more to promote consistency by setting a rotation instead of waiting for players to really earn their spots?

A.J. Price thinks the issue may be the players' ability to accept criticism. The Wizards' starting point guard has certainly been around the block in this area, having to deal with head coaches that yo-yoed his minutes and threatened his confidence. Last night, he took an interesting stand on the mental state of some of his teammates.

"We've got young guys on the team who kind of get caught up in what's said or how the coach says it. You can't do that," he said. "You just have to be confident in yourself and what's gotten you here. It's gotten you here for a reason. Just do what you know how to do."

It's impossible to know who Price is talking about, but it's also not especially surprising. Young players lose confidence easily, and it's on everyone associated with the team to do their best to maintain it. Wittman admitted the same in his press conference, emphatically stating the phrase "that's my job" when asked whether it's tough to maintain team confidence.

But it might also be time for him to settle on a rotation and stick with it. On the one hand, nobody has really "earned" their spot. On the other hand, perhaps all this tinkering is doing more harm than good. Last night's closing lineup of Price, Jordan Crawford, Ariza, Singleton and Seraphin had not played a single second together this season. It's hard to develop consistency when you're playing with different teammates every time you step on the floor.

From the sounds of it, though, Wittman is going to keep shuffling players around.

"I'm going to keep looking at different combinations, still trying to look at playing different guys together," Wittman said. "I'm trying to find a thing where we can get into a little bit of a rhythm and it's not so up and down in individual performances."

That leaves everyone searching for tactical ways to improve confidence and consistency. Shaun Livingston, point guard that he is, stressed the need to get easy buckets and get out in transition. Beal, rookie that he is, discussed the importance of sticking together and "being like a fist at all times." Common answers, to be sure, but they certainly have merit.

The real solution, though, is to get one win. Just one win, and hopefully belief and better preparation gets fostered. That's the thing about confidence and consistency. Winning breeds confidence, but confidence also breeds winning. Finding that balance continues to be the Wizards' biggest challenge.

"We've got to play with confidence and belief in yourself, and then in each other," Wittman said. "It's going to come. It'll come."

He sounded like he was trying to convince himself with that last line, but really, that's all he and anyone else can do.