WASHINGTON -- The boos started sometime in the second quarter and got uncomfortably louder, with the Wizards eventually hearing them again as they walked off the floor down 29 at halftime to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
It was part of a 44-20 second quarter that featured embarrassing defense by the Wizards and sloppy turnovers. The Thunder were outrageously hot, just to pile it on. There was a little fight in the third quarter, with the Wizards winning it 35-31, but it was too little, too late as Oklahoma City finished off a 134-111 victory to drop Washington to 1-7.
The remaining fans in the building added more boos as the buzzer sounded.
"I'm not hitting the panic button. I'm not hitting it, and I don't think we are either as a team," Wizards guard Bradley Beal said. "We understand it's still early, it's not perfect. We understand patience is running low from everybody, from ourselves. Nobody is more disappointed than us. I'm definitely going to say that."
The defensive indifference was jarring at times, highlighted in the Thunder's opening possession of the second half as the Wizards disregarded Terrance Ferguson in the right corner. He splashed from 3 to put Oklahoma City up 32.
"Offense has never been a problem for us," point guard John Wall said. "We score the ball very well. It's just what can we do on the defensive end. Until we figure that out, we're going to have these same problems."
A number of Wizards players pointed to defensive miscommunication as an issue -- Washington allows a league-worst 123.9 points per game -- but guard Austin Rivers hinted at a deeper problem.
"It could be more than that," he said. "I don't want to speak on it too much. But, you know."
"It just looks like nobody is on the same page," Wall said of the defense.
In his Wizards debut, Dwight Howard was a bright spot, scoring 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting in 23 minutes. Beal finished with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting and tried to spark the Wizards in the third quarter, hitting a pull-up 3 and clapping and encouraging his teammates.
"I'll never give up on this team," Beal said. "What are we going to do about it? Just fold up early in the year and give up on the year or fight back and try to compete like we know we're capable of doing? And I refuse to let the ship sink, so as one of the captains on the team, I put a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. I've got to be better leadership-wise on the floor, giving more, leading by example, and hopefully guys will follow."
The Wizards opened the season with close losses to the Heat and Raptors, and then pulled out an overtime win on the road in Portland. They have since lost five straight, with the scoreboard growing more and more depressing, featuring a 22-point loss to the Warriors, a 32-point loss to the Clippers, a 12-point loss to the Grizzlies and now a 23-point loss to the Thunder.
"We've got to stick together and we've got to keep playing for one another," coach Scott Brooks said. "I still believe in these guys.
"I have a lot of confidence in our guys staying together, and I also have a lot of confidence our guys are going to play well. We're going to start playing better together. Dwight was obviously a start to that."
It's also notable this was the second night of a back-to-back for the Thunder. The Wizards actually opened the game on a 13-3 run, hitting their first seven shots. But after the jumpers stopped falling, the Thunder heated up and ended up shooting 57 percent from the floor with 34 assists and 15-of-32 on 3s.
"This team is really good and they're playing good basketball right now, but they should not have been able to do that on our home floor in a back-to-back game," Brooks said.
The Wizards next play Sunday in D.C. against the Knicks then have a three-game road trip with games against the Mavericks, Magic and Heat. There is an opportunity to get things turned around in the next two weeks, and the Wizards were in a similar situation two years ago after starting 2-8, eventually finishing with 49 wins and a seven-game series loss in the second round to the Celtics.
"No," Wall said when asked if it feels any different this time around when compared to the previous bad start. "I mean, we've got a better team on paper, but until you go out there and show it on the court, that don't mean anything. Anything looks great on paper until you go out and find that chemistry and do it all as a group and everybody looks at themselves in the mirror, including myself first and everybody else down figuring out what can we do to make the game easier and better for us and make us one chemistry group altogether."