Despite the potential for the hurt feelings and bad blood that come with losing, this isn't the same Wizards team, according to John Wall, that required a players-only meeting to get themselves right as they go into tonight's game at the Cleveland Cavaliers (CSN, CSNmidatlantic.com and NBC Sports Live Extra, 6:30 p.m. ET).
“That situation we didn’t know where the team wanted to go," said Wall of 2013, when the lost seven of their first nine games, floundered around .500 all season before qualifying for the postseason for the first time in his career. "We got people here that know what this team can be capable of. That was just the beginning. We were trying to start.”
That meant a veteran like Trevor Ariza, who now is with the Houston Rockets, putting Wall on the spot about his leadership. The Wizards won 44 games that season, 46 last season and are expected to at least reach that point this season. To realistically have a shot at a top four seed to guarantee home-court advantage, 50 is the magic number.
“We all know what our role is, what we need to do to help this team win. The main focus is me," said Wall, No. 2 in the NBA in assists a year about but who has only reached double-digit assists four times. "Until I start playing better, we’re not going to do well. That’s simple as that. Me and Brad (Beal) are the top scorers on this team. If we’re not clicking, he’s going to play well and I haven’t so we’re not going to have a chance to win games. That’s something I have to figure out, a slump I have to get out of. I work everyday to get better and to improve. There have been times in my career I didn’t play well. There are times I will play well. I’ll be alright.”
Wall is down in every category. His shooting has dipped to 39%. He less than 30% from three-point range. In his sixth year in Washington, 16.1 points is his lowest career average. To make matters worse, Beal has fallen off the cliff, too, as the chemistry between the duo has waned. He only had nine shot attempts in Saturday's 84-82 loss to the Toronto Raptors, though he scored 20 points.
No summit meeting between the two has been required, though they have had sitdowns in the past to work out the kinks. The pace-and-space offense has grind to a halt because of the two players needed to make it go are on different wavelengths.
“When we’re on, other teams have to double-team us more and it gives our other teammates easier looks and open looks to make them more comfortable," Wall said. "When we’re not on, they’re in a situation to take tough shots like we are. When we’re aggressive and find our teammates and making shots, it’s hard to beat us.
“We really haven’t had too much space as we’re supposed to. This system is for more spacing but ... it’s not as much spacing as we thought it was. Early on we had a lot more spacing and that’s when things were clicking. Lately it has not been that way. It’s me playing better and making open shots and also my teammates making open shots. When they’re not making open shots and I’m not making shots, people just pack the paint. When we’re on and making shots, you see our offense is a lot more flowing and there’s more spacing.”
While the Raptors, like most teams, blitzed Beal with multiple defenders to slow him down, he has succeeded before. He doesn't accept his predicament and instead keeps his dribble alive and movement off the ball until the defense has a breakdown. Coach Randy Wittman wants to see more of that streak in his shooting guard.
"Let me tell you you’re doing too much rather than you’re doing too little. And so, it’s a situation sometimes we get going too fast that we don’t even know we’re passing up opportunities," Wittman said. "It’s got to be a situation that guys in his position, guys like Bradley Beal in this league, read the situation and when opportunities are there they don’t pass to many of them up. That’s got to be a thing he continues to do.”
The 25 shots Wall took vs. Toronto were a season-high. He only made six. For him, it's the classic case of trying to work his way out of this fog.
"Sometimes you’re going to be super-aggressive, sometimes you’re not. At times I think when I’m not making shots I shouldn’t be aggressive," he said. "There are times (Beal) was hot he should’ve been looking for more and I should’ve been trying to find him. (And) vice versa.”
But Wall won't go as far as Marcin Gortat did after the loss when he said it's not fun anymore. He's certain times will change for the better.
"Every time I step in this building, being around my teammates and this coaching staff, get to practicing and play something I love to do it’s always fun. It’s just frustrating and no fun for me the way I’ve been playing," he said. "That’s the only key is I have to play better for my team to have a chance to win games. To win games I have to be an All-Star. I have to play at an All-Star type level. I haven’t (played) like I did after the first week of the season. Since we’ve been 3-1 it’s been a downfall for my team. That starts with my play and my leadership.”