Wizards head coach Randy Wittman joined Lavar and Dukes Thursday, fresh off the heels of the team’s first victory thirteen games into the regular season, to stress the Achilles heel for this them has been their debilitating lack of confidence.
The Wizards, who defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 84-82 at home Wednesday, have floundered without star point guard John Wall, and starting center Nene.
Some of that team confidence has been restored though, coinciding with the return of Nene –he’s been battling plantar fasciitis since the Summer Olympics – in the three games he’s been in the lineup. Even in limited minutes, his presence sparked Washington to battle close with Atlanta and Charlotte, who defeated the Wizards by a combined three points, in overtime and double overtime, respectively.
“We’ve got a lot of guys because of the injuries that are in games at crunch time that have not been in games at crunch time in their career, and it’s kind of shown,” Wittman said. “We’ve lost a lot of games that we should have won.”
As is with any team that loses consistently for an extended stretch of time, sometimes breaking through that wall with a victory is all a team needs to restore faith in themselves.
“The script that we can move forward with is that we’re right there each and every night,” Wittman said. “We’ve had two games where we really didn’t have a chance to win. All the others really went down to the last four minutes of the game.”
Wittman was defiant to the idea that exterior pressure from fans or media could ever change the way he coaches his players.
“People can say what they want. ‘Fire the coach.’ That doesn’t affect what I’m going to do each and every day to try to help these guys.”
But that’s not to say that he doesn’t understand the frustration of Wizards fans, and he took a second to reason with their kinder nature – a town all-too-familiar with the patience that’s necessary to weather losing seasons – by delivering a message of hope.
“I totally understand the frustration of our fans,” Wittman said. “We’ve had five games this year where if we just accomplished one of six things in the last two minutes of the game, you win that game.”
He did acknowledge Jan Vesely’s struggles. The sixth overall pick in 2011, Vesely has yet to show the type of return on the team’s investment that would appease fans’ skepticism of him.
“He’s playing with no confidence right now,” Wittman said. “If you play with no confidence, you ain’t worth a crap.”
Hovering around thirteen minutes a game, the 6’11” Vesely is averaging a meager 2.2 points per game, shooting only 43 percent from the field and just 23 percent from the charity stripe.
While Wittman agreed Vesely’s growth may have been stunted with John Wall missing on the floor, he says he cannot allow that to be a limiting factor for him.
“Can he help Jan Vesely? Absolutely. But Jon Vesely’s also then got to take it upon himself ‘You know what? That guy’s not here and I’ve got to still impact the game the way that I’m capable of impacting the game’.”
Wittman told Lavar and Dukes he’s trying to find that perfect remedy to motivate Vesely, that will get his small forward to take the initiative to make the most of his opportunities. The coach’s latest effort was making him sit on the bench through the duration of the team’s breakthrough victory.
As for the team, their shortcomings have also boiled down to an inferiority complex, and Randy Wittman has reminded his team that nobody outside their locker room is going to care what may be holding them back internally. They have to find a way to win.
“Everybody that’s on our team is on the roster because they’re capable of playing at this level, but you have to believe that,” Wittman said. “Sometimes that one win can make a big difference in these guys’ minds in getting the job done and moving forward.”
And moving forward from their lone victory, Wittman said he needs to see perseverance, and his players need to continue to block out what everyone is saying about them, as they’ve allowed themselves to become the laughingstock of the league.
“We’ve got to be able to withstand that and continue to move on and you’ve got to have thick skin. If that bothers you, you’re not going to make it in this league. It doesn’t matter if you’re here with Washington or on another club.”
Through their season-long follies, the statistic that’s plagued the Wizards the most is the deficit they create for themselves on the scoreboard game after game.
“Our point differential is 7 points, and that’s unheard of,” Wittman said.
“The reality is that we’re 1-12. We could easily have four wins by now.”