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After the Wizards recorded their first victory of the season on New Year’s Day, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves, 130–109, rookie Deni Avdija pleaded for patience. Washington had lost five straight to start the season, but the Wizards overwhelmed the Timberwolves and Avdija scored a career-high 11 points in the win.
In a post-game interview, a reporter asked Avdija what he learned about himself during the losing streak.
“I learned that everybody needs to be patient. Fans need to be patient. Players need to be patient. Everybody needs to be patient,” he replied. “We’re great players. If you sit in our locker room and you look around, we have great talent. But sometimes it takes time to figure things out. We got a new superstar, and I’m new to the team. I’m new to the system, too. It takes time for everybody. You can’t expect magic to happen right away … We’re gonna lose games, but eventually how we turn into a team, that’s the most important thing for me.”
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not this early, at least. The Wizards, who have won their last two games, entered the season with high expectations and playoff hopes. With the addition of former league MVP Russell Westbrook, the re-signing of sharp shooter Dāvis Bertāns, and the growth of young, talented players like Thomas Bryant, anything short of the qualifying for the postseason would be considered a failure.
Coach Scott Brooks told reporters in the preseason that he expected this group to reach the playoffs—even if outside projections, like the one from FiveThirtyEight, had the Wizards on the outside looking in. Player after player, including Bradley Beal, praised the team’s newfound energy and the accountability that Westbrook has brought.
The team still started 0-5. Already on the hot seat, Brooks began the season as the odds-on favorite to be fired this year, and Bullets Forever’s Albert Lee even compiled a list of best replacements if that does happen.
“Everybody’s pissed,” Beal said after the team lost to the Chicago Bulls, 133-130, for its fifth straight loss. “We’re pissed off. But in a good way. We’re pissed off.”
Like last season, the Wizards have struggled on defense. Washington ranks 26th with a 113.2 team defensive rating through seven games and has allowed teams to score more than 100 points in each contest, including its two victories. Beal told reporters after the Chicago loss that the team played “selfishly” and had “a lot of inconsistencies” on defense. Second-year forward Rui Hachimura said he did not think it was a lack of effort from the players, but rather players needing to communicate more on defense.
“We have to fight through, we have to accept it that we lost five games in a row,” added Raul Neto, a veteran point guard who has provided a spark for the Wizards off the bench. “We have to accept that we got to do better and do the work. I think there is nothing else to do. I think we got to do the work, accept that we are not as good as thought we were, I think, but we just got to take pride and go out there and play. I think we trust each other. That’s all that matters and we’re going to fight through and try to get more wins, for sure.”
The Wizards have won their two most recent games, including a 123-122 upset over the Brooklyn Nets. Afterward, Beal praised Bryant, who scored 21 points and grabbed the game-clinching rebound, the team’s growth, and the positive energy in the locker room. In both victories, the Wizards forced more turnovers than they committed, and relied on more balanced scoring than in the earlier games. Beal is averaging 30.6 points per game, third best in the NBA this season. In the past two games, the Wizards are 14th in the league with a 109.0 defensive rating.
“I think we’re a great team,” Avdija said after the win over Minnesota. “I’m super positive about this team. Mark my words, we’re gonna be good. We just need to figure things out. Just play hard and play defense. When we play simple, and play defense, we’re playing very good. I’m all about positives with this team.”
Washington next plays the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers Wednesday in Philadelphia followed by an away game against the Boston Celtics on Friday. The Wizards will need all the positive momentum they can get. Patience can eventually run out.
Photo by All-Pro Reels, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.