CHICAGO — John Wall is frustrated.
His Washington Wizards have lost five of their past seven games and been nothing if not inconsistent. They're currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, but haven't been able to finish games.
Saturday, Washington overcame a 25-point deficit to take the lead against the Houston Rockets, then went nearly five minutes without scoring, losing 114-107. Monday, they face the Chicago Bulls, who hold a one-game lead over the Wizards in the Eastern Conference standings.
"You can take a couple of losses if you're playing hard and playing consistent," Wall said Monday after the Wizards' shoot-around at the United Center. "But for some reason, at home, we haven't been doing that. Some nights, you're going to miss shots, and that's when your defense has to step up."
Wall, who signed a five-year, $80 million contract extension this summer, is having the best season of his career, averaging 19.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game, likely enough to earn him a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. With second-year shooting guard Bradley Beal, he gives Washington one of the NBA's best young backcourts.
But the Wizards have struggled to create offense in the paint this season, drawing the fourth-fewest free throw attempts in the league.
"We have to be better at attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line," Wall said. "We're one of the last teams in the league at attacking the basket, so that's something we've got to do a better job of, not settling for jump shots. Attack the basket to get ourselves an easy layup or a free throw to get ourselves going, and hopefully that can get us a momentum swing and get us back in rhythm."
The Wizards traded for veteran center Marcin Gortat shortly before the start of the season, landing a solid starting big man in an attempt to break a six-year playoff drought. In the abysmal Eastern Conference, the Wizards have established themselves as one of the better teams, even with their inconsistency.
A victory over the Bulls, who recently traded All-Star forward Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers but have won all five of their games in the calendar year of 2014, would be a chance to begin getting some separation.
"This is a big game for us, a must-win for us because (the Bulls) are one game ahead of us for a playoff spot," Wall said. "They're one of the hottest teams in the league right now, they've won eight of their last 10 and then they've won the last five since Luol got traded. People were talking about how they were going to tank and not be the same team, but they've been coming out here and being professionals and doing what you're supposed to and winning as many games as possible."
Tanking is not an option for the Wizards, either. They're tired of losing, and so is Wall, who did not sign a max extension to go to the lottery every year. With Beal, Gortat, veteran big man Nene and emerging young power forward Trevor Booker, Washington has the talent to make a playoff run. It's just a matter of putting the pieces together.
"We've just got to find a way to be consistent," Wall said. "That's the one thing you've got to be is consistent, and if you lose games, being consistent and playing the right way that your team wants to play, you can deal with that. But when you're not playing the right way and not being consistent, that makes it more frustrating."