Call them slow starters. Call them oh-for-November. Call them road worriers.
Call the winless Wizards anything you want, but please don’t start comparing them to last year’s team.
Last year, the Wizards began the season with eight straight losses – the worst start in franchise history – and lost by a combined 103 points. Six of those losses were by eight or more points and the average margin of defeat was 13 points.
This year’s Wizards are off to an 0-7 start heading into Saturday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, their first in a stretch in which the Wizards play five of six at Verizon Center.
Unlike last season, the Wizards’ seven losses this year have been by a combined 55 points and four have been by six points or fewer.
“It feels about the same,” Wizards forward Trevor Booker said. “The only thing that feels different is that [this season] I feel we definitely could have won at least three of the games we played.”
Cartier Martin, who went 4-for-4 from 3-point range and finished with a season-high 14 points in Wednesday night’s 107-101 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, says owning the NBA’s worst record is hard to ignore …
“But we’re a tough group of guys and we’re not going to give up,” he said. “As you can see, a lot of the games we’ve been right there. We’re fighting and we’re going to compete. We get down but we continue to fight to get back in the games. There’s just a little hump we need to get over to get us a win.”
It’s fair to suggest the same could not have been said for last year’s Wizards. That team set the tone early by blowing a 21-point lead in a season-opening loss to the New Jersey Nets, a game that was followed by Andray Blatche telling critical fans on Twitter to “shut up.”
It got uglier from there. During a loss to the Houston Rockets on Jan. 16, JaVale McGee was benched for the final nine minutes after alley-ooping a pass to himself of the backboard for a slam dunk.
“Apparently, if you get a fast break and throw it off the backboard in the third quarter and you're 1-11, you’re not supposed to do stuff like that,” McGee told reporters after the game.
Three games later coach Flip Saunders was fired and replaced with assistant Randy Wittman.
Ten months aftet that coaching change Wittman has the same record Saunders had after seven games last season. But with a whole new cast of characters – only Booker, Martin, Jordan Crawford. John Wall, Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton remain from that team – there is a whole different attitude
“We feel like we definitely need a win right now,” Martin said. “But we’re a talented team. We’re definitely better than what our record shows right now. We just have to believe in ourselves. There are a lot of new faces and we’re still trying to mesh together and find different ways to win.”
Wittman has used the same starting lienup for the first seven games this season and he hinted on Friday he may switch it up when the Wizards hit the floor against the Mavs.
One thing Wittman won't do is start comparing this team to the one he inherited from Saunders last January.
“I’m not into comparisons,” he said. “I’m worried about this team and us going out and doing the things that we’re capable of doing to win games. I’ve still got great belief in these guys, even without John and Nene, that we can do that.”
And while everyone can agree Wittman was hired with the intent of holding players more accountable than Saunders, he said he’s been careful not to be too critical of a team that has been in nearly every game this season without the help of arguably its two best players.
You try every trick in the book,” Wittman said. “I’m not going to give up on that. We’ve had spurts here. We again dug ourselves a hole in Dallas, but you know what? To come back like we did and fight and make shots. … We’ve got guys that can make shots. That always helps any situation and when we’re struggling like we are from an offensive standpoint, and still be able to be competitive in the game. That’s got to give you belief.”