As the Wizards have shown this year, and really since the beginning of last season, there is one particular type of NBA team that gives them trouble. It's the team that plays collectively, with toughness and an edge on defense.
The Wizards allow their opponents to set the tone and the aggressive ones that punch them first usually don't get a punch back.
So far this season, blue-collar teams like the Grizzlies, Clippers and Nets have given the Wizards fits. In those losses, Washington was just trying to keep up, hopelessly reacting on too many plays just a half-or-full-step slower than they needed to.
Though the Blazers are a high-scoring team led by big-name stars, they possess the qualities that expose the Wizards when they are in their most listless form. On Sunday, Portland came out with want-to on defense and a commitment to moving the ball to find open shooters on offense.
That simple combination was too much for the Wizards, who let the game slip away early, trailing by as many as 20 points in the first quarter alone.
It was hard to watch for everyone on the Washington side; for fans, the coaches and also the players who are losing patience as they grasp for answers to what will fix their persistent woes.
The prevailing message from head coach Scott Brooks' postgame press conference and from the locker room was that they are actively searching for a solution, but that they have no clear sense what that solution is.
"It's embarrassing,” Brooks said, citing effort and energy like he often has this season. “Just trying to figure that out. It's on me."
"I'm not sure. We have to figure something out," forward Markieff Morris said.
"Honestly, I really don't have an answer," forward Jeff Green said, genuinely perplexed.
As the Wizards wilt at 5-11 and in last place, the general consensus from those on the court and the bench seems to be that no major changes need to be made. Brooks suggested he needs to find "five guys on the court that are playing for their team." But he says that all the time and has ever since he took the job before the 2016-17 season.
It doesn't mean wholesale changes are coming.
Guard Bradley Beal pleaded the fifth when asked if trades or firings need to be made.
"I have no idea. All I can do is my job and just like everybody else, and just come in and try to get better every day. At the end of the day, that's Ted [Leonsis'] job, Ernie [Grunfeld's] job to make those decisions," he said.
Morris and guard John Wall each expressed confidence in the players already on the roster.
“I don't think so," Wall said of potentially breaking up the core. "We can still figure it out."
"It's not time for a fire sale," Morris told NBC Sports Washington.
The best insight into what is plaguing the Wizards came from backup guard Austin Rivers. Though he can't put a finger on it, either, he sees some bad signs.
"Our team is like loaded with talent and we're losing game after game. You just start to question it," he said.
"Guys are like tentative now when they're on the floor. You can see it. You guys can watch it and see it. It doesn't even take a basketball expert to watch... When you lose, guys start getting unsure. We're running and our spacing is terrible. It's just a snowball effect."
Rivers, like Green, went out of his way to say Brooks wasn't the root of it, that it's on the players. He also highlighted his backcourt partner Tomas Satoransky as someone who was exempt from their issues.
"Sato is definitely not the problem. Sato doesn't do anything wrong," Rivers said.
Satoransky was one of the few Wizards players who came out of Sunday's defeat with reasons to hold their chin up walking into the locker room afterwards. He had 10 points, seven assists and was +22 in the box score.
Like Satoransky, Kelly Oubre Jr. played well. He had 19 points, four rebounds, four assists and three blocks. He was +14. Others like Thomas Bryant and Troy Brown Jr., two youngsters who only played when the game was out of hand, provided a spark of energy off the bench and helped cut the Blazers lead down to single digits late in the game after Portland led by as many as 29.
Brooks has been wary of major lineup adjustments since he arrived in Washington, but it's never been quite this bad. At 5-11, this start is even worse than two years ago, his first season on the job, when they rallied to win 49 games.
If their losing continues, Brooks will have to do something drastic at some point. Maybe that is moving Oubre into the starting lineup and taking Morris out to help guide the second unit. Morris could thrive as a small-ball center, while Oubre could help set a tone defensively with the starters.
Oubre is their most energetic and active defender. Perhaps that would rub off on Wall, Beal and Otto Porter Jr.
It's clear the Wizards need to change something and the rotation is the logical first place to start. Rivers, for one, wonders if things will get better if they simply stick to the current plan.
"You're just like 'stay with it and it will turn around.' But when? You're digging yourself a farther and farther hole," he said.
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