Will December be the Wizards' month?
How bad is the Eastern Conference this season? The Washington Wizards (5-10) are just one game out of the eighth spot in the East as they get set to kick off the month of December on Tuesday in Toronto.
The Wizards are hopeful that the worst is behind them, after surviving a month that started with Antawn Jamison out with a shoulder injury, ended with Mike Miller out with a calf injury and included a rough schedule loaded with playoff teams from last season. But can flipping the calendar to another month also flip their season downside up?
The 15-game schedule for the month of December looks to be a little lighter, with the Wizards playing just five games against teams with winning records (Boston, Phoenix, Milwaukee twice and Oklahoma City). But, as Randy Foye pointed out, the Wizards shouldn't get too caught up with an opponents' record. "You can't look at no team and say, it's easier now, because you can go anywhere -- New Jersey or Minnesota -- and they can beat you," Foye said.
If you don't believe him, then go see what the Timberwolves did to Denver on Sunday. And facing inferior opponents doesn't mean that the Wizards should run through those teams, either -- after all, the Wizards are a bad team, too, right now.
The Wizards will face the Raptors again on Friday in Washington. They also have home games this month against Milwaukee, Boston, Indiana, Philadelphia and Oklahoma City. The Wizards have nine games away from Verizon Center, with road games against Detroit, the Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento, Golden State, Milwaukee, Minnesota and Memphis.
But Foye said he was optimistic that the Wizards can turn it around in December. "We 5-10 now. I think we could be 10-5 this month -- or better."
Coach Flip Saunders said that in order for the team to improve its lot this month, it will have to have more trust in the system and remember what works. "I think, when you play how you played against Dallas, when you play how you did against Cleveland for three quarters, or how you did against Miami, and you have to understand, that's the bottle of magic, that you have to perform at that level," Saunders said. "It's just a matter of keep on pounding and pounding and understanding that's how you have to play.
"There are times where you could say we are immature competitors," Saunders said. "When things go a little bit bad, we don't have the sticktoitiveness to stay with what we're doing, to stay with the system."
Saunders explained that a number of factors have contributed to the Wizards sputtering out of the gate, including a new system, several new players, injuries and an ever-changing lineup. But he also said that the team could simply be making the situation more complicated than it really is.
"Our main thing is basically playing basketball, playing the right way and playing how they would play almost controlled and you would play almost pickup basketball," he said. "You're playing pick and rolls, you're moving the basketball, you're playing how you've been playing since you were in ninth grade. So it's not a major change of how guys are going to play."
Antawn Jamison said the Wizards have shown that they aren't too far off, but they won't be able to lean on the "it's early" excuse much longer.
"Once you look at it, we're only five game away from being at .500 ... and our biggest thing so far is not putting a string of victories together. I just think four or five victories in a row will ease things around here, especially in the locker room. But I just think winning solves a lot of things. We haven't done it the way we'd like to do it, but the excuses of it's still early in the season is getting old. We just need to fix games like we had Saturday and in San Antonio. For us it's execution offensively, defensively and once we do that, we'll be fine."
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