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'This isn't fun': NBA's Wizards off to 0-9 start

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'This isn't fun': NBA's Wizards off to 0-9 start

WASHINGTON (AP) As the coach of the only NBA team without a victory this season, Randy Wittman is struggling to pick a starting lineup for the Washington Wizards. Can't even zero in on a nine-man rotation, actually.

All the while, he needs to buoy his own flagging spirits and try to prevent his players from getting too down on themselves after a franchise-worst 0-9 start.

``This isn't fun. You don't sleep very good. You don't eat very good. The bowl of pasta doesn't taste (good) right now,'' Wittman said after practice Tuesday, before the Wizards' flight to Atlanta for a game against the Hawks on Wednesday night.

```Hey, if I don't stay upbeat, how am I going to keep them upbeat?' is the way I've always looked at it,'' he said. ``I've got to be the leader of being upbeat, if that makes any sense to you. I can't go in there and be down: `Lost again.' I've got to be: `Hey, we did lose again. We lost for these reasons. But look what we did.'''

A loss against the Hawks (5-4) would make the Wizards the 13th team in NBA history to begin a season with a 10-game losing streak, according to STATS LLC.

The worst start was 0-18, by the New Jersey Nets in 2009-10.

``We really need this win,'' forward Chris Singleton said.

With the notable exception of a 16-point loss at the Charlotte Bobcats last week - which made Washington's record 0-6 - the Wizards generally have managed to stay close to opponents, with an average margin of defeat of 7.7 points.

In Monday's 96-89 setback against the visiting Indiana Pacers, the Wizards trailed by as many as 20 points. But they pulled within one at 86-85 with 3 1/2 minutes left as Singleton headed to the line with a chance to complete a three-point play to tie the score. He missed the free throw, and Indiana pulled away.

``Again,'' Singleton said Tuesday, ``we couldn't get over the hump.''

It hasn't helped matters that Washington's two best players, point guard John Wall and center Nene, have yet to appear in a game this season because of injuries. While Wittman has been satisfied with the team's play at the defensive end of the court, the offense is where there have been significant problems.

Jordan Crawford leads the Wizards with a 12.2-point scoring average, followed by No. 3 overall draft pick Bradley Beal at 11.7.

In Monday's loss to Indiana, the five starters - Crawford, A.J. Price, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor and Jan Vesely - combined to shoot 8 for 37 on field-goal attempts (22 percent).

A day later, Wittman said he had yet to settle on a lineup to put on the floor against Atlanta and was considering four combinations.

``Got to do a little bit more thinking, take another look at the tape again, see the things I liked and didn't like,'' said Wittman, who replaced the fired Flip Saunders as Washington's coach when the team was 2-15 last season.

Part of the difficulty Wittman is having now is that players haven't distinguished themselves by playing well for four quarters on any given night - or even playing well from game to game.

``I can't figure out the nine (most-used players), it's so up and down,'' Wittman explained. ``The 13th guy all of a sudden looks good, the second guy looks awful.''

It doesn't figure to get much easier any time soon for the Wizards, whose next eight games come against teams that all are currently .500 or better. That includes the defending champion Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.

``This group should be winning games. We should be - (even) without John and Nene,'' Wittman said. ``We've got to get them to believe that themselves. That's my job.''

Notes: Wizards F Trevor Booker missed practice and had an MRI exam on his strained right knee Tuesday; the team did not immediately have any word on his availability against Atlanta. Booker left Monday's loss late in the fourth quarter. ... Washington began last season 0-8. Before then, the team never started with more than five losses in a row.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter athttp://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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Otto Porter Jr. begins 2018-19 season with way too few shot attempts in Wizards' loss

Otto Porter Jr. begins 2018-19 season with way too few shot attempts in Wizards' loss

The initiative to get Otto Porter Jr. more attempts from three this season is not off to a great start.

That right there is called an understatement. Because it would be one thing if Porter only took a couple of them, but he literally took zero against the Heat on Thursday night in the Wizards' 2018-19 regular season opener.

Yes, one of the NBA's best three-point shooters didn't even get off a single attempt from long range. That is simply hard to justify, especially after a preseason in which the team had a stated goal to shoot more threes than ever before.

It wasn't just threes. The often deferential Porter was even more gun shy than normal. He only took seven total shots in the 113-112 loss and topped out at just nine points.

Porter, in fact, had just one field goal attempt until there was 1:19 remaining in the first half, when he got two of them on the same play thanks to a rebound on his own miss.

Porter still affected the game in other ways, per usual. He had 11 rebounds, three steals and three blocks and finished +1 in +/- rating.

But for Porter to reach the next level as a player, he has to add volume to his efficient scoring numbers.

"We will look at the film and figure it out," head coach Scott Brooks said. "It's not like we go into the game wanting to only shoot 26 threes [as a team] and Otto shoot zero."

Brooks continued to say the problem is a combination of several things. More plays could be called for Porter and his teammates could look for him more often.

But ultimately, it's up to Porter to assert himself and take initiative. Granted, that may have been easier said than done against the Heat, who boast one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball in Josh Richardson. They are a scrappy team with athletic and hard-nosed defenders on the wing.

For Porter, though, that shouldn't matter. Ultimately, his share of the offense is up to him. The ball is going to swing around often enough for him to create his own opportunities.

Porter only taking seven shots is a bad sign considering Thursday was a better opportunity to get shots than he may receive in most games. The Wizards added Dwight Howard this summer and last season he averaged 11.2 shots per game, 3.4 more than Marcin Gortat, whom he replaced in the starting lineup.

It won't be easy, but the Wizards need Porter to take matters into his own hands.

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Despite late penalty, Todd Reirden doesn’t want to see Nathan Walker change his game

Despite late penalty, Todd Reirden doesn’t want to see Nathan Walker change his game

The Caps looked like they were in good shape in the third period on Wednesday. With a 3-2 lead in the final frame against a New York Rangers team that had played the night before, Washington looked like they were starting to wear down the blue shirts and tilt the ice in their favor.

But everything changed just before the midway point of the period.

Nathan Walker, in the lineup for the first time since Oct. 4, chased down Neal Pionk behind the Rangers net as Pionk went to collect the puck. Walker put his arms around the Rangers’ defenseman to slow him up and he was called for holding.

“That was the safest thing possible for me to do is to wrap him up and take him in the corner like that,” Walker said to NBC Sports Washington on Friday. “Personally, I didn't think it was a good call on the ref's side, but that's the way it goes.”

Just over a minute later, Chris Kreider deflected a shot that was going wide past Braden Holtby for the power play goal to tie the game at 3.

A third period mistake that tied the game from a player in and out of the lineup could have been a devastating moment for Walker, but head coach Todd Reirden was adamant after the game that he did not want Walker to lose his aggressiveness or change the way he plays as a result of Wednesday’s mistake.

“I insert him to be aggressive and his intensity was something we needed,” Reirden said. “I thought he won a lot of puck battles earlier in the game and at different points. He's pursuing the puck trying to force a turnover and it ends up as a call against. That's I think a tough call in that situation, but we're able to pick him up and if there's a guy on our team that we want to rally around and try to come back for, it's someone like that with a work ethic and just commitment and dedication and how he is as a teammate.”

Luckily for Walker, the Caps were still able to get the win thanks to Matt Niskanen’s overtime goal. Those were nervous moments for him watching as the team tried to overcome his mistake.

“It's definitely nerve-wracking for sure,” Walker said. “You kind of feel like you're the reason why they got back into the game. I personally thought we were all over them in the third period up until they got that goal. I think we still played really well, but obviously the play with the lead is a lot nicer than playing tied up 10 minutes to go in the third. It was nerve-wracking, but it was good that the guys came through and we got the two points at the end of the day so that's the main thing.”

The fact that Walker’s mistake did not end up costing the team will make it easier for Reirden’s message to sink in. It’s his aggressiveness that makes him valuable. One mistake should not make him change that aspect of his game.

Said Reirden, “It's something that if he stops hunting pucks and creating havoc up ice then he's just a very average player that's going to find himself in and out of the league.”

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