The Washington Wizards are in the midst of a four-game road swing, and so far, they've stumbled out of the gate. Washington lost an overtime game, 117-111, to Sacramento March 18, and lost, 116-103, to Portland March 20.
Coach Randy Wittman said he's concerned about the team falling back into its old pattern of building up a lead, then squandering it.
"You cannot treat the game that way," Wittman said after the loss to the Trail Blazers. "We just play sometimes, and you have to close that quarter out with a lead. To give up eight points in 53 seconds is hard to do. Sacramento, again, a squander at the end. You can't squander. You work too hard in this league to get leads against good teams, and to throw it away in 53 seconds hurts."
The Wizards are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 14 games left to play, and will try to avoid slipping to the seventh spot, which would likely set up a first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. There are 3.5 games currently separating the No. 3 spot from the No. 6 spot.
On the positive side for Washington during the game against Portland was a career-high 3-point performance by point guard John Wall, who went 5-of-10 from beyond the arc and led the Wizards with 24 points. On the negative side was the absence of center Marcin Gortat, who tweaked his back during pregame warm-ups and was unable to play.
"I thought all of us gave great effort," Wittman said. "Again, we have to get dirtier. That's the term I like to use. We have to get dirty out there on the floor for 48 minutes. Sometimes we let ourselves get pushed around too much, and then we react. So, we have to get back to reacting first and be the guys that are pushing people around."
The final two games during the West Coast trip are against the Los Angeles Lakers March 21 and the Denver Nuggets March 23. The Lakers have been officially eliminated from playoff contention, and the Nuggets are 9.5 games out of the last playoff spot.
Just as they did earlier during the season, the Wizards are losing the kinds of games they need to win and are dropping down in the standings at a time when they need to be moving up. Perhaps Gortat said it best as he summed up his frustration after the loss to the Kings.
"We've got to execute," Gortat said. "We've got to make free throws, and we've got to stop. You've just got to play better in clutch time, and at the end of the day, we get punished. We get punished for being cocky. We get punished for being too confident. We've got to pay the price now."