WASHINGTON -- "Lack of desire."
That was how Randy Wittman began his postgame press conference after watching his Washington Wizards team lose, 115-113, to a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that came in Friday riding a six-game losing streak that a day earlier prompted the firing of general manager Chris Grant.
The Wizards allowed the team with the third-worst shooting percentage in the NBA to shoot 59.5 percent in the first half, and 51.9 percent for the game. Washington trailed by 11 with just under two minutes to play before a late rally made the final score much closer than the game felt.
This from the Wizards team coming off a three-game stretch during which they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers before losing to the San Antonio Spurs in double overtime. When asked about his team's performance against the Cavs, Wittman didn't hold back.
"Mentally, we're just not tough enough right now. Mentally we're not tough enough, and what it also tells me is we don't want to pay the price yet of having to go for 82 games [and] not take a night off," Wittman said. "You're going to have a nights where you're gonna be off, but exerting your will on the game for 82 games, this team does not do. When we do that, we're pretty good, but we're not a good team because we don't do it all the time."
The hashtag #SoWizards exists as a kind of shorthand for Wizards fans (and NBA fans, really) to acknowledge when the team is once again doing the comically unexpected, typically in depressing fashion. Washington's last nine games exemplify what #SoWizards is all about: victories against the Phoenix Suns (30-20), Golden State Warriors (30-21), Thunder (40-12) and Blazers (35-15), losses to the Utah Jazz (17-33), Los Angeles Clippers (35-18), Spurs (37-14) and Cavs (17-33).
In detailing his team's up-and-down nature, Wittman perfectly described the essence of #SoWizards.
"We just think sometimes we can just show up. 'Maybe tonight will be a little easier tonight. I don't have to exert as much energy tonight. Let's see if we can get away with that.' Then you give up 67 points later in the first half, and you're in a dogfight," he said. "We're not a very good team. Good teams don't do that over and over and over again, and we have. We can get all caught up in .500, and like I told you guys what that meant - nothing - and think that you've arrived, but good teams do not lose basketball games like this nine, 10, 11 times halfway through the season, and that's what we're doing."
Wittman blasted his team's effort against the Cavs -- "We told them what that organization is going through right now, some tough times with the firing of their GM, they're gonna be desperate, always happens no matter who it is that gets fired" -- and said getting it to approach every game the same way "falls on my shoulders."
"You try to give them time off, rest...I've got to try something different to get these guys ready. We're not right now willing to pay the price to be a good team, and that's every night, doesn't matter who you're playing, every night just going out and just laying it on the line. Good teams do that, and we don't do that. It's been proven," he said. "Until we are willing from a mental standpoint to say you know what, we've got to do this every night, we're going to be win two, lose two, win three, lose three. That's what we're going to be, and I think they can be better than that. I think they can be better than that, but not with that thought process going into games like this."
In the locker room, players put the onus of getting up for games, regardless of opponent, on themselves.
"Each one of us has to find a way to get ready for the game and focus and just try to play the game like he's playing the last time of his life, and sometimes we just don't do that," Marcin Gortat said.
"I think coach is doing a heck of a job. I don't think there's nothing more you can [do to] motivate us. You're in this situation where you finally get over .500, and then you got an opportunity to beat the Spurs and you let that game go away, and then you come back and have an opportunity to play an OK team that's struggling, going through so much, especially just losing their GM in the Cavaliers, and you don't go out there and show the respect to those guys, and they came out here and slapped us in the face and beat us," John Wall said. "So I don't think there's nothing more you can do. He does everything he can in practice, he shows us the game schemes and the concepts, we're the ones as players that gotta go out there and put our heart on the line and compete."
Wall also backed his coach's assessment of the team.
"I think the same way," Wall said. "If you're a good team, you played good those last three games against the best three teams in the West, and had a chance to go undefeated against those...[Wittman] came back and told us that this is the biggest game of the year, to see where you stand as a team and see if you're taking the right steps forward, and we're nowhere near close to taking those steps forward because we didn't improve."
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