With the regular season coming to a close, every NBA team is fighting through nagging injuries and mental fatigue. A little of both caught up with the Washington Wizards April 9, as they lost, 94-88, during overtime to the Charlotte Bobcats. Washington got off to a dismal start, scoring 18 points during the first quarter, and one point during the overtime period, when they appeared exhausted and drained.
The loss dropped the Wizards to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference with four games left during the season.
At a time when the Wizards -- who will make the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season -- should be focused and fighting for a better seed, there appears to be a disconnect in the attitude and effort some players are bringing to this late-season battle.
"I guess we are immature and just not experienced enough," center Marcin Gortat said. "Everything starts in practice. The first few minutes we walk in fooling around, and this is how you start a game."
Gortat, 30, is in his seventh year in the league, and has been to the postseason three times with the Orlando Magic, as a backup to perennial all-star center Dwight Howard. Gortat then spent three years in Phoenix when the Suns began to rebuild, and had fallen out of the playoff chase.
Now that he's headed back to the playoffs, Gortat, who led all scorers with 27 points against the Bobcats, sounded concerned that some of his teammates seemed to be playing without a proper sense of urgency.
"Honestly, I don't care about standings," Gortat said. "End of the day, we have to play. The way we play right now, we're not going to beat anybody, including Milwaukee."
The Wizards will face the league-worst Milwaukee Bucks (14-64) April 12 at Verizon Center, following an April 11 road game against the Magic.
"Seriously, it doesn't matter who we're going to play in the first round," Gortat said. "If we're going to play like this, we're not going to win games, bottom line. I don't think it's the problem if we drop to seventh or eight, or six or whatever it's going to be. I think we just have to play better."
Unlike point guard John Wall, who put the loss down to the team missing shots and playing poor defense, Gortat, and coach Randy Wittman, spoke as though the problem with the team's play went deeper.
"It was almost like we were spinning our wheels in mud," Wittman said. "We just didn't have the enthusiasm. I don't even know if we had a sweat broken at the jump ball."
Wittman bristled when asked whether he needed to remind his players of the importance of not falling in the standings during these final regular-season games.
"We know it," Wittman said. "I was really worried this afternoon that we'd be too fired up and almost come out the other way, which you kind of worry about. I was just not expecting to come out and go through the motions like we did in the first half."