Tired of being on the receiving end while they get pummeled on the boards and the hustle plays, Garrett Temple is pretty blunt about the Wizards' overall lack of fight. They just don't have it.
"We never had it this season," Temple said before the team left to play Tuesday's game at the N.Y. Knicks. "We've had it for spurts but we haven't had it for a full 10 games. We had that four-game winning streak. That's why we were able to win games. That's the team that we are. We're physical and it doesn't come from just hitting guys hard or having hard fouls. Physical comes from cracking down, flying around helping your teammate out. We're not physical enough on the defensive end."
In Saturday's 108-104 loss at the Charlotte Hornets, who erased a 19-point deficit to win for the second time in three meetings, the Wizards gave in. The Knicks handed the Wizards (22-27) their first loss of the season by scoring 117 points in Verizon Center.
"We're not a physical, beat-'em-up team, but you can still be physical. You can be the slightest guy and still be physical," coach Randy Wittman said. "Being physical is first to the ball. In games like in Charlotte, 50-50 balls were definitely in their favor. When you're physical you're more apt to control those type of things. ... We got beat twice without even getting on the floor. They got on the floor and got baskets on both of them. In a two-possession game that's pretty important."
Nene (left calf) hasn't played in the last two games and they usually take a step back in the toughness department without him. But Nene, who is expected to play Tuesday, isn't a full-time player and can't be relied on to bail out the Wizards every time the going gets rough. He will deliver hard fouls and body up his man before he gets to his position on the low block. Nene also will use his powerful frame to keep his man off the boards so his teammates can grab the rebounds instead.
The Wizards, however, are last in the NBA in rebounding at 40 per game. They finished last season ranked eighth because Nene started next to Marcin Gortat. This season, they've gone to a pace-and-space style with Kris Humphries and now Jared Dudley as the starting "stretch" four.
"Teams come out and push us around. First of all we don't rebound the ball well enough. Being physical, you have rebound the ball," Temple said. "Rebounding is all hustle. When you have a team (30)th in rebounding that let's you know you're not a physical team. We give up too many layups. No hard fouls. Until we change that we won't be a physical team."
Wittman sat down with the team in a film session Monday. The inability to be on the same page defensively this deep into a season is troubling for a unit that has its core players from two playoff runs still together. They confused responsibilities during coverages. They don't always recognize their personnel and what they should be giving up vs. taking away from the opponent.
"We're not going a lot of stuff right. A lot of stuff is going wrong," Temple said. "We might focus on defending the pick-and-roll one day and then the next day focus on rebounding, knowing where our man is, things of that nature. Guys are still focused and understand that we're definitely hearing the message that things need to be changed."