By DERON SNYDER
Instructive occasions and teachable moments abound in life. But they’re worthless unless we’re smart enough to recognize them and wise enough to glean the lessons.
Take, for instance, the Washington Wizards.
They have lost three of their last four games entering Thursday, when the Los Angeles Lakers come to town. Two of those defeats were at home against Dallas and Phoenix, teams that have no business winning road games in Washington.
The Mavericks had one victory against 11 losses before a wire-to-wire victory Tuesday at Capital One Arena. The Suns, who beat the Wizards last week, were 4-7 and on a three-game losing streak entering Wednesday’s game against Miami.
No self-respecting team that proclaims to be the Eastern Conference’s best can be wiped on its home floor by dregs from the West. That’s the biggest takeaway from the Wizards’ inconsistent, 5-5 season so far, but only because the other bit of education should be a no-brainer at this point:
Don’t let your mouth write checks that your body can’t cash.
LeBron James stamped “Insufficient Funds” on the Wizards’ account Friday night, shortly after John Wall and Bradley Beal told a national TV audience that Washington is Cleveland’s biggest threat and the Cavaliers feared a potential match-up in the playoffs last season.
James stopped quaking long enough to drop 57 points on the Wizards’ heads, adding 11 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks for good measure. “I really don’t have a comment about it,” James told reporters afterward, referring to the pre-game remarks from Washington’s braggadocious backcourt.
He had let his performance do the talking, perhaps a novel concept in the Wizards’ locker room but one the team should embrace.
They bounced back from the Cleveland loss with an impressive victory Sunday at conference foe Toronto. Despite missing Wall, who was out with an injured shoulder, the Wizards never trailed the Raptors and enjoyed double-digit leads for most of the game.
Afterward, players spoke about dialing back the hubris and increasing the humility. Great idea, even if you have to fake it.
We just didn’t know that meant being humiliated two nights later by the NBA’s worst team.
“It’s pretty much the same as all of our losses,” Beal told reporters after Dallas scored a season-high 113 points and out-rebounded the Wizards 53-39. “We didn’t play hard. They outworked us. We didn’t defend. It’s plain and simple; we don’t win if we don’t defend.”
That’s indefensible. The Wizards have some talent, but they’re not flush with a level that allows them to coast like, say, Golden State. Running the court for three-pointers and dunks is fun, but it can’t compensate for shortcomings on the other end, whether lack of effort or lack of efficiency.
LeBron is going to LeBron. Yielding 57 points to “The King” can happen to anyone. But Washington also blew a 22-point lead against the Suns, allowing forward T.J. Warren a career-high 40 points. On Tuesday, Dallas forward Harrison Barnes notched a season-high 31 points. Rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. scored a season-high 22 points and – at 6-foot-3 – had more rebounds (eight) than anyone on the Wizards.
“The first thing is you should never have to talk about effort,” coach Scott Brooks told reporters. “You shouldn’t. If you’re going to expect to win in this league consistently you have to do the winning basketball plays. That’s stopping the ball, contesting shots, blocking out and rebounding the ball. We are struggling doing that, not throughout the game, just spurts of the game.”
Brooks said he must find a way to make his players more active on defense and less concerned about their offense.
Scoring isn’t the issue. Washington ranks third at 111.4 points per game. But only seven teams allow their opponents more points than the Wizards (108.5). Only four teams yield a higher field-goal percentage (47.5).
If the Wizards fancy themselves as a premier NBA team, one capable of reaching the elusive Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1978-79, they are a long way from proving it. The only thing they’ve demonstrated so far is the ability to talk a good game.
But talk is cheap. Backing it up comes with a cost that the Wizards apparently are unwilling or unable to pay. The flaws and unevenness wouldn’t be nearly as glaring if they hadn’t shot off their big mouths.
They’ll be smarter moving forward. At least that’s the hope.
It’d be shame if they wasted such a great opportunity to learn and grow.