Individual progress and development has taken a front seat over wins and losses for the Wizards in Orlando, as Washington remains winless in the NBA's restart, now at 0-6 and 0-9 overall, if you include the exhibition schedule. So, as they ponder their final two games of the season - against the Celtics and Bucks - what would more would the coaching staff like to see?
Head coach Scott Brooks has been trying to drill in some lessons to his young players and he wants to see some strides in key areas. He held a lengthy film session on Saturday, but did not get what he was hoping for in Sunday's loss to Oklahoma City.
"They’re all teachable moments," Brooks said. "We can’t keep making the same mistakes over and over. I said [at halftime] ‘either you’re not understanding it or I’m not doing a good job of explaining it.’"
As for specifics, Brooks said he wants his team to do a better job of stopping the ball on defense. Opponents are getting into the lane off the dribble far too easily and it is dismantling their defensive gameplan.
He also wants his team to execute better with outside shots. The Wizards are 21st out of the 22 teams in Orlando in three-pointers made (9.0/g), attempts (27.8/g) and percentage (32.3%). Not having Davis Bertans and Bradley Beal has done them no favors in those categories.
And perhaps most noticeable to Brooks has been the team's tendency to be pushed around physically.
"You’ve gotta make a stand," Brooks said. "I thought [the Thunder's] physicality in the start of the game bothered us and it put us back on our heels. We played timid."
Brooks highlighted rookie Rui Hachimura as a player who could put up more of a fight. On Sunday, Hachimura matched up at times with Chris Paul, who did a good job preventing him from reaching his favorite spots on the floor.
"You have to catch it deeper and go right through the guy’s chest. He’s going to learn that," Brooks said. "He’s still learning the league and the defenses that are going to be thrown at him."
Ish Smith is the most experienced player in the Wizards' rotation with 10 years of NBA service. He thinks the Wizards collectively are allowing other teams to be the aggressors. He says they need to cut harder on offense and be more assertive initiating contact on defense.
But overall, he thinks the young players on the team are learning that games with higher stakes are played differently.
"It’s such a good time for us because everybody that’s here is trying to get to the playoffs. So, they’re playing at a high, high level," he said.
"Sometimes, no offense to the regular season and all 82 games, but some games you catch a team on a back-to-back or with injuries and different things. This is a good thing for all of us, to show us the level that you have to play at. The physicality that you have to play with, the level that you have to play at not just to make it to the playoffs but to be a champion."
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