Scott Brooks would probably prefer a smoother ride than the start of this Wizards season. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Here’s an idea for an amusement park’s next thrill ride: build a roller coaster from durable pieces of years past; lay a track that propels the ride quickly out of the gates but slopes in unexpected places and rises at even stranger moments; repeat this wacky rhythm over and over again, completely disorienting the passenger; call it “The Wizard.”
Scott Brooks thinks it would make for an exciting attraction, but it is less ideal if you’re an NBA team. But that’s the ride the Washington Wizards coach has been strapped into to start the 2017-18 season. The Wizards, confident after re-signing key members of their core to long-term deals, began the year with three straight wins but have since experienced hairpin turns, with losses against some of the worst teams in the NBA sprinkled with a few peaks against better competition. This basketball chaos has resulted in a discordant 20-16 record with one game remaining in the calendar year.
“It’s definitely up and down. Early part of the season, it’s like if we were a ride at Six Flags, we’d been pretty popular, right?” Brooks said Saturday afternoon.
“I don’t know if you want to coach that team all the time but I liked the team last night,” Brooks continued, referring to Friday’s 121-103 victory over the Houston Rockets. “Hopefully we can have that team show up every night. That’s my job. I take responsibility for that to happen. I need to do a better job, along with the players. It’s not just them. It’s not just me. We’re all in it together but we got to approach every game the same way.”
This previous week served as a microcosm for Washington’s season. On Christmas, the Wizards traveled to Eastern Conference-leading Boston and defeated their nemesis, 111-103. That win was followed by a dull evening in Atlanta, where Washington stumbled against the Hawks, who own the worst record in the NBA. But then on Friday night, “The Wizard” hit another of its gravity-defying heights as Washington defeated the Rockets, who boast the second-best record in the Western Conference.
That has left the Wizards looking like the picture of confusion. They are 9-10 when playing teams with losing records but 11-6 against those .500 and above. They rank seventh among 30 NBA teams in defensive rating and yet were humbled by one of the lowest-scoring teams, the Utah Jazz, in a 47-point rout at the beginning of the month.
They start one of the most efficient three-point shooters in the league (Otto Porter Jr., fourth at 46.6 percent) and the fastest player to reach 700 made threes in the history of the game (Bradley Beal), but throughout the roster, they seem resigned to average the 10th fewest three-point attempts in the NBA.
Brooks noted the inconsistencies as he reflected on his team’s up-and-down 2017, but also applauded the moments of development.
“Where we are now with the health of our team, I think we have a chance to keep getting better. We had some individual guys who improved,” Brooks said, before singling out third-year player Kelly Oubre Jr., who scored 21 in the win over Houston, his seventh-consecutive game in double figures for the longest stretch of his career.
“He’s definitely one of them,” Brooks said. “A guy that’s improved over 2017. He still has a lot more growth to go and 2018 could be an even better year for him.”
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