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Wizards are kicking themselves after 5-5 start, knowing opportunities have been squandered

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Wizards are kicking themselves after 5-5 start, knowing opportunities have been squandered

The idea that the Wizards would get off to a commanding start to this season, benefitting from their continuity in an Eastern Conference where most made significant changes this summer, has not quite gone as planned.

Ten games do not make a season and the Wizards clearly have enough talent to end up with one of the top records in the league. But they currently sit an even 5-5, knowing at least a few of those losses should have resulted in wins against inferior teams.

It happened again on Tuesday night. The Wizards unraveled early on defense and couldn't complete a comeback against a 2-10 Dallas Mavericks team that entered with the worst record in the NBA. This defeat followed a road loss to the Lakers and a home loss to the Suns, two teams that like the Mavs are almost certainly going to fall short of the playoffs.

One loss to a bad team here and there is understandable. But the best NBA teams, the ones who earn the top seeds come April, generally take care of their business against lesser foes. Three of these types of losses is too many for a two-week span.

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Making matters worse is the way they feel they lost those games. In their eyes, it comes down to effort. That is fixable, of course, but a tough pill to swallow.

"It's just a matter of us looking at ourselves in the mirror," shooting guard Bradley Beal said. "See the things we accomplished last year and be hungry for it. We gotta get hungry again. I think we are great team but we got to act like we are a great team and go out there and prove it.”

An optimist could compare the Wizards' 5-5 record favorably to their 2-8 mark after 10 games last season. They were able to rally for a 49-win campaign and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. A similar trajectory this season might push the Wizards over the 50-mark, a stated goal for the organization.

What bothers the Wizards is that the same issues that were plaguing them this time last season are hurting them now. Their bench is a mixed bag and their defensive effort hasn't been consistent.

"We do this every year. This is not the first time," point guard John Wall said. "The only difference is that we are .500. That is the only difference in my opinion."

Like last season, the Wizards will likely heat up at some point and start rising the ranks in the Eastern Conference. That, however, may not fully negate what is adding up to a lost opportunity to bank some early wins. Plus, what if teams like the Pistons, Magic and Knicks keep winning, and the East is better than people predicted?

Speaking of predictions, between the Celtics and Cavaliers, many expected those teams to struggle early with all the offseason changes they made. The Celtics have been fine. They lead the East at 9-2, having won nine straight games. The Cavs, on the other hand, are just 5-6.

The Wizards could have built some early breathing room on a Cavs team they know will be there at the end in May in possibly June. Like last year, the Wizards' so-so start will be interesting to revisit come playoff seeding time.

It's far too early to draw major conclusions, but the Wizards are understandably frustrated with how things have begun through 10 games. Last year they had built-in excuses with a new coaching staff, nine new players and Wall on a minutes restriction. This time, it's on them and they know it.

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Best moments from Wizards' loss to Hornets, including Oubre and Beal's big dunks

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Best moments from Wizards' loss to Hornets, including Oubre and Beal's big dunks

Here are the best plays or moments from the Washington Wizards' 129-124 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night...

1. The Wizards couldn't do much to stop Dwight Howard in this one, but he did have one of his shots blocked. It was by the rim, though.

Watch Howard rise for an alley-oop, only to be rejected by the rim. 

That was about the only thing Howard did wrong. He finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds.

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2. Bradley Beal didn't have a great shooting night, as he finished 7-for-22 despite dropping 22 points. He had a few nice dunks in the first half including this one:

3. John Wall had a strong game with 31 points and 11 assists on 13-of-26 shooting. This was his best assist, a thread-the-needle dish to Markieff Morris.

4. Here's another dunk from Beal, this one with two hands for good measure:

5. This was the best dunk of the night. Kelly Oubre, Jr. caught the Hornets sleeping with a nice putback slam. 

The Wizards closed their road trip a disappointing 1-2, but at least the game was entertaining.

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Wizards have letdown on defense, fall to Hornets in overtime

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Wizards have letdown on defense, fall to Hornets in overtime

The Washington Wizards lost the Charlotte Hornets 129-124 in overtime on Wednesday night at the Spectrum Center. Here's analysis of what went down...

Frustrating loss: The Wizards will not head into the Thanksgiving holiday a happy bunch. After an impressive road win at the Milwaukee Bucks, they let a winnable game slip away against the Hornets. They were up nine points with 3:32 left in the fourth, yet allowed the Hornets to force overtime and then dominate the extra period.

Defense was the problem for Washington. After holding opponents to 95 points or less in six of their last seven games, the Wizards gave up 129 points to an average offensive team. Yes, 15 of those points came in overtime, but the Wizards won't be happy with their defense after this one. They will probably regret the 53 bench points they gave up more than anything.

Beal, Wall heated up late: Neither John Wall or Bradley Beal had a rhythm in the first half, but both woke up later on for the Wizards. Wall had eight points in the first half, but on 3-for-11 shooting. Beal had seven points, but also on 3-for-11 from the field.

Stars can only be held in check for so long and Wall and Beal broke ultimately broke through. Wall had 11 points in the third quarter and Beal had seven. 

For a while it looked like Wall and Beal had taken the game over, but the Wizards couldn't take advantage despite Wall ending up with 31 points and 11 assists and Beal having 22 points, four rebounds and two steals.

Beal's night was highlighted by a series of dunks in the first half, including this one with two hands:

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Howard was a beast: The Wizards did a good job limiting Dwight Howard this past spring when they faced the Hawks in the playoffs, but they had no such luck on Wednesday in their first meeting with Howard's Hornets. Howard was dominant down low with 26 points and 13 rebounds. The Hornets did a good job feeding him in the post and when he has position there are little options beyond sending him to the free throw line. 

Marcin Gortat (eight points, 11 rebounds) is a good match for Howard on most nights. They know each other well as former teammates with the Orlando Magic. Gortat had a fine game, but Howard was at his best on Wednesday. He was coming off of a 25-point, 20-rebound performance and he kept it going against the Wizards.

Howard also blocked Beal's buzzer-beater at the end of regulation. Beal got the ball with two seconds left and tried driving to his left down the baseline. Howard read the move and swatted the ball out of bounds. Howard then had a big bucket with less than a minute to go. He had a putback on an airballed three that was a backbreaker for the Wizards, who needed a stop.

Meeks and Scott were a plus: The Wizards got a nice boost from their bench from Jodie Meeks (nine points) and Mike Scott (13 points), two guys who have proven this season to be instant offense when they're at their best. Scott came in and hit a three with a pair of midrange jumpers in the first half. Meeks was getting it down in the paint with floaters and layups on nice cuts to the basket. 

Scott hit three threes and is now shooting 44.8 percent for the season. It's only on 29 attempts, but that's not bad at all.

Lamb was a problem: The Wizards had a lot of trouble with Hornets reserve Jeremy Lamb, who has been Charlotte's most improved player so far this season. He was a force off the bench with 24 points in 37 minutes. Lamb has always had a lot of potential as a freak athlete with a sweet jumper. He may be starting to truly put it all together.

The Wizards even tried Kelly Oubre, Jr., one of their best defenders, on him. But Lamb kept getting buckets and added seven rebounds and five assists. 

Up next: The Wizards are off for Thanksgiving and Friday. They pick back up on Saturday with the Portland Trail Blazers in town. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

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