The doors slammed shut in the Wizards' locker room Thursday, after they lost for the third consecutive time. For the second time in three years, a players-only meeting was required and it seems fitting that their next game is against the Houston Rockets.
It was Trevor Ariza, who left as a free agent for Houston two seasons ago, initiating a closed-door pow wow following a 2-7 start. At that time, there were personal issues between teammates that had to be worked out. This one, after a 117-113 to the Denver Nuggets, was about a team that's 20-24 and on the verge of being home in the postseason for the first time since a 29-win season in 2012-13.
"The flow has been terrible for us these last couple games. That's something that players and coaches have to do a better job," said Jared Dudley, who called himself the team spokesman because he faces the music every time the Wizards play badly. "At times it's good to play Nene and (Marcin) Gortat together. ... What team are we trying to be here? We can't keep coming into this locker room talking about inconsistency because April 15 (when the regular-season ends) we'll all be back at the crib."
Thursday, it wasn't a good start for the Wizards going with their big lineup. They fell behind quickly 10-2 and eventually trailed by 18 in the third quarter. Gortat didn't play at all in the fourth quarter when they made a comeback to tie the score at 99 on a three-point play by Ramon Sessions.
The Wizards are 1-3 with Nene and Gortat starting the last four games while Dudley, who had been the starter at power forward, coming off the bench.
They've given up 106 points in a loss to the Toronto Raptors, 108 to the Portland Trail Blazers and 116 and 119 to the Boston Celtics. All, of course, are losses, too.
"Everybody can make excuses about us being injured but we have a lot of guys that step up and play big roles," point guard John Wall said. "You got to go out there and compete and do it on the defensive end."
Bradley Beal didn't want to reveal any details about what was said in the meeting, but Garrett Temple didn't hesitate to bring up the obvious.
"That's exactly why. We're not playing defense the way we're capable of. We have to fix it before it's too late," said Temple who had 20 or more points for the fifth time this season in place of Beal while he's on a minutes restriction. "In a few games come All-Star break, if we continue to play like we're going to play then it's going to be too late. We had a little closed-door discussion as a team as players. Hopefully it changes things."
Six players from that initial players meeting remain: Wall, Temple, Beal, Nene, Gortat and Otto Porter.
"Totally different team. It's different things that we talked about," Temple said. "Maybe one or two things that were similar that were brought up. The main point, the main focus was a little different than the one two years ago."
It's clear that Dudley is starting to become agitated by the slow starts and abrupt stops whenever they gain momentum. The Wizards, a team he was happy to join when he was acquired in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks, should be in the mix for a top four seeding. That means home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs instead of the two No. 5 seeds.
The Wizards made their run with Dudley on the floor all 12 minutes of the fourth. The same goes for Temple and Nene. Combined, they shot 7 of 11 in a 34-point quarter.
"We're trying to find ourselves. We're doing it through games. We're struggling with that. I keep hearing, 'What's our identity?' so basically our identity is to space the floor, put the pressure on," Dudley said. "We're a three-point shooting team that can go into Nene and we have to be aggressive defensively. Those are our strengths. I don't care what lineup is out there. That for this team going forward.
"When it comes to basketball IQ and knowing stuff like that it's apparent that's when we're at our most successful. Defensively, we got to start holding each other accountable. That starts with me helping these guys out where defensively someone's not getting up into them, if it's John, if it's Sessions it starts with the point guards. Bigs talking, Nene, Gortat myself have to do a better job holding each other accountable. Players are going to have to hold each other accountable during the games more to be able to get under guys. That's something I'll do a better job of going forward."
It should be no surprise that when Temple, Nene and Dudley are on the floor the Wizards are at their best on both ends. Per 100 possessions on offense and defense, they are the only three players coming into Thursday that had a positive rating.
"No matter what scheme you put out there, if guys don't go out and execute the scheme, don't compete defensively, defense is all about heart," said Temple, their best one-on-one defender. "You don't have to be the quickest. You don't have to be the strongest. You just have to have heart and that comes with defending the possession and rebounding.
"All that is heart. No scheme can keep a guy offensive glass. You got to box him out and rebound. No schemes can keep a guy from one-on-one, getting in the paint for a layup. That's not a scheme. That's one-on-one defense and we've got to take pride. We've got to guard people."