WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In his first game in charge, interim coach Randy Wittman was not trying to reinvent the Washington Wizards. He just wanted to get Washington on the path to playing a respectable brand of basketball and live up to modest expectations of decency.
Wittman decided to accept the job because he believes he can get this group to perform better than the 2-15 record the team posted under former coach Flip Saunders. But with limited practice time available given this season's compressed schedule, even minor tweaks -- like pushing the pace on offense -- will likely be a challenge.
"They had a day off yesterday and we had a shootaround today," Wittman said when asked before Wednesday's game if a tempo change required a new attitude or strategy. "You tell me how much we structurally changed it."
Despite the lack of practice, the Wizards gave their best effort of the season on Wednesday against the Bobcats, who in defeat, slid past Washington to claim the league's worst winning percentage. The Wizards dominated Charlotte in a 92-75 win at the Verizon Center. It was Washington's third win of the season, but the first time Washington had really controlled a game.
For one game, it was a much-needed respite from the losing. But the problem remains that Wittman has less time to work with the team than he probably needs. The Wizards will play four games in the next seven days.
"Well, it is. It's very difficult [not having practice time], especially in making changes," he said. "Not a lot a coach can do stepping in to change."
Wittman's solution -- which is somewhat dictated by the circumstances -- is to keep everything as simple as possible. But it also comes from experience.
"I've learned you can't throw a bundle of stuff at them and change everything," Wittman said. "Because they're not going to know what to do."
"Last time, I tried to invent the game of basketball and I learned from that," Wittman added, referencing his sting as interim coach in Minnesota four seasons ago.
Instead of blowing up the X's and O's, Wittman has started by attempting to change the cooperate culture. He challenged individual players to live up to their potential, while at the same time pardoning their play from the first 17 games of the season -- choosing to focus on moving forward.
"What's happened in the past has happened," Wittman said. "All these guys got a clean slate with me."
In his words, players will earn their minutes by playing hard and accepting coaching. He said minutes will be earned on the practice court -- admittedly a tough task with so little practice time.
In the meantime, instead of adding new stuff, the Wizards will focus on cutting back on bad habits.
"It's like any bad habit we have. If you're a smoker, you ain't going to drop those habits in a day," Wittman said. I've got to help them kick some of these bad habits that we're in. That's all it is. We've fallen into playing a way that's not conducive for us to win. So when I see them pull out a cigarette, I got to take it out of my mouth."
If, like general manager Ernie Grunfeld said, the Wizards needed a new voice, they appeared to be listening. But how different is Wittman, really?
"Me personally, Randy Wittman and Flip, they worked together," Andray Blatche said. "I don't know. I can’t honestly say we needed a new voice. We just needed somebody to actually check us like Wittman did."
The Wizards came out in the first quarter and set the tone against Charlotte. The team pressured the ball better defensively and on offense, the ball moved and the possessions benefited.
But there was still plenty to critique from Wednesday night's action, and Wittman will have his hands full trying to find time to fix all the kinks.
"It's going to be a process," he said before the game. "There's no miracles. I don't have the magic touch.
"If we have a full focus of changing and playing the way that we need to play, good things are gonna happen."
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