Paul Pierce put the blame on the 15 players in the locker room. So did John Wall, Bradley Beal and every other voice that mattered after the Wizards cleaned out their lockers this week following another season that ended in the second round of the playoffs.
After a 31-15 start, they coasted and ultimately paid for it. Coach Randy Wittman called them out for it early and often and became exhausted having to hammer home the same point. They paced themselves to a 46-win season and another No. 5 seed. If they'd played with more urgency instead of trying to turn it on and off when it suited their purposes, maybe their series with the Atlanta Hawks turns out differently despite Wall's broken left wrist that cost him three games (See Pierce's keeping it real moment in the playoffs, pointing to some teammates enjoying success and the NBA lifestyle on the road too much in the regular season).
"The start was good. But I don't know if we as a group -- and I have to do a better job of it, No. 1 -- of the focus of what 82 games means and where you finish in that thing, can be the little thing that gets you over the hump," said Wittman, referring to the Wizards' slump going into and coming out of the All-Star break and then alluding to the Houston Rockets comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the L.A. Clippers. "Look at the game (Sunday) night: Does Houston win that series if they don't have home-court advantage? That's a legitimate question. Does finishing third rather than fifth push you over the hump? And so to do that, you've got to have a better focus for 82 games. It's a long season. I've got to do a better job as well as wanting our players to do a better job of that."
Not having home-court advantage didn't hurt the Wizards in the first round last season when they upset the Chicago Bulls in five games or this season when they swept the Toronto Raptors in four. But the competition does get tougher. This isn't college. It's not any coach's responsibility to check on grownups being paid millions to make sure they're in bed and getting proper sleep during road trips, either.
"That's the biggest thing that Witt actually told us after the game," Beal said. "Before he said anything about our loss, just imagine we could've been a top three seed if we would've just did what we were supposed to do during the regular season. We started the season doing that then we slipped up and went 2 and 12 during one stretch which hurt us. ... We got to start thinking of matchups we want to face and make it easier on ourselves."
Wall had a sore right knee and two aching ankles. Beal had a sore right ankle and a recurring stress injury in his lower right leg. Marcin Gortat even admitted, after the Wizards were embarrassed in a 22-point loss at home to the Brooklyn Nets in January, that the post players mailed it in because they were nursing injuries. Drew Gooden told the truth about their coasting, too.
"We got complacent. We (were) up. We (were) playing well. A lot of games over .500. And then going into the All-Star break, we didn't play well," Wall said. "And then coming out of the All-Star break, we didn't play well. And coach had already preached all season those are the type of games you've got to take away -- I mean, games that teams are giving away -- to try to build up and get a higher seed. We didn't do a great job of that and we kind of can see how much home court means in the playoffs."