As the losing streaks piled up, Wizards coach Randy Wittman didn't flinch.
Now he has one of the NBA’s hottest teams despite being 18-37 and 12th out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference.
After Monday’s 90-84 win at the Toronto Raptors, the Wizards have a three-game winning streak and have won seven of their last 10 games. Going into Tuesday’s games, only the Miami Heat (40-14), Indiana Pacers (35-31), San Antonio Spurs (45-13) and Memphis Grizzlies (37-18) have been hotter.
The Wizards lost 12 games to start the season and then eight. It wasn't until Dec. 28 that his team got its fourth win, 105-97 vs. the Orlando Magic. They've now won 10 of their last 12 games at Verizon Center, where play the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday (CSN+, 7 p.m. ET).
“It might seem crazy, (but) I was really proud of these guys even when we’re 4-28,” said Wittman, in his first full season at the helm, on Tuesday after practice. “When we had our top players out or limited … these guys busted their butts. We laid the foundation of how this team being whole needed to play and it started from the defensive standpoint.”
Wittman is referring to John Wall’s knee injury that kept the starting point guard out until January, a foot injury to Nene that kept the power forward from making 25 starts and a wrist injury that forced rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal out of seven games. Those were his three best offensive players.
But it’s the team defense that Wittman believes is the key building block for their late-season success. The Wizards are 7-4 in February, their first winning month of the season, but have allowed opponents to reach 100 or more points just twice. And the two times that happened last week, vs. the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets, the Wizards still won those games.
That’s a major turnabout from Jan. 4, when the Wizards blew a fourth-quarter lead and then a 101-93 edge with 87 seconds left in the first overtime vs. the Brooklyn Nets. They’d fall 115-113 in double overtime.
“You just try to keep a team focused on what lies ahead. Everybody knew we were behind the eight ball in terms of injuries. I tried to keep telling our guys, ‘This is going to help us somewhere.’ Losing a double-overtime game when you have a six-point lead with 30 seconds to go, somewhere it’s going to help us,” Wittman said. “It has helped us. That’s what you try to preach -- that you give yourselves a chance each night."