When you’re the head coach of a beat-up basketball team carrying the weight of the worst record in the NBA, you need to be as much a psychologist as you are a strategist.
As coach of the 3-18 Wizards, Randy Wittman is learning how to walk that line this season.
Aside from a small sampling of games, the Wizards had been competitive against every opponent this season before taking a 102-72 smackdown by LeBron James and the Miami Heat on Saturday night.
It was a blowout loss that should have surprised no one, considering the Heat were looking to avenge an upset loss to the Wiz 11 days earlier at Verizon Center and the Wizards were without John Wall, Nene, A.J. Price and Trevor Booker.
That said, Wittman still felt the need to let his players know their effort in that loss was unacceptable.
“I don't care who's playing, who's not playing,” Wittman said. “We're all NBA players. You've got to go out and lay it on the line. That's what I told the guys. You go out and bust your ass and lay it on the line. Win or lose, you can live for another day and you move on, you've gotten better, you've improved. We took a step back the way we came out and played Miami, the effort we gave.”
Saturday night’s loss was also the fourth game in five nights for the Wizards, who continue their difficult stretch this week when they face the Atlanta Hawks tonight at Verizon Center [6:30 p.m., Comcast SportsNet], then visit Orlando Wednesday night and Detroit on Friday night before returning home to face the Bulls on Saturday night.
With that in mind, Wittman broke down Saturday’s loss in Miami before practice on Monday, but was careful not to beat down on players who are being asked to fill the void left by the team’s most talented players.
“You have to be careful of presentation and keeping spirits alive,” Wittman said. “You also have to be man enough to see and recognize that that was terrible. That's kind of what we did. There wasn't any browbeating or name-calling, but it needed to be seen because we haven't done that.
“That's what was disappointing. We hadn't come out with an effort of lackluster, walking around offensively, which led to turnovers.”
Tonight the Wizards will face another team near the top of the conference. The Hawks enter the game with a 14-7 record and are coming off a humiliating 115-93 home loss to GoldenState.
The Wizards have lost 17 of their last 18 games against the Hawks, including a pair of defeats this season. Maybe that’s why Wittman is in the market for someone to turn Verizon Center into a house of horrors for someone other than his own team.
“If anybody knows an exorcist that can come into this building,” Wittman said. “I don’t believe in that stuff, but I’m not going to stop it.”