AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON - As the coach of the only NBA team without a victory this season, Randy Wittman is struggling to pick a starting lineup for the Washington Wizards. Can't even zero in on a nine-man rotation, actually.
All the while, he needs to buoy his own flagging spirits and try to prevent his players from getting too down on themselves after a franchise-worst 0-9 start.
"This isn't fun. You don't sleep very good. You don't eat very good. The bowl of pasta doesn't taste (good) right now," Wittman said after practice Tuesday, before the Wizards' flight to Atlanta for a game against the Hawks on Wednesday night.
"`Hey, if I don't stay upbeat, how am I going to keep them upbeat?' is the way I've always looked at it," he said. "I've got to be the leader of being upbeat, if that makes any sense to you. I can't go in there and be down: `Lost again.' I've got to be: `Hey, we did lose again. We lost for these reasons. But look what we did.'"
A loss against the Hawks (5-4) would make the Wizards the 13th team in NBA history to begin a season with a 10-game losing streak, according to STATS LLC.
The worst start was 0-18, by the New Jersey Nets in 2009-10.
"We really need this win," forward Chris Singleton said.
With the notable exception of a 16-point loss at the Charlotte Bobcats last week _ which made Washington's record 0-6 _ the Wizards generally have managed to stay close to opponents, with an average margin of defeat of 7.7 points.
In Monday's 96-89 setback against the visiting Indiana Pacers, the Wizards trailed by as many as 20 points. But they pulled within one at 86-85 with 3 1/2 minutes left as Singleton headed to the line with a chance to complete a three- point play to tie the score. He missed the free throw, and Indiana pulled away.
"Again," Singleton said Tuesday, "we couldn't get over the hump."
It hasn't helped matters that Washington's two best players, point guard John Wall and center Nene, have yet to appear in a game this season because of injuries. While Wittman has been satisfied with the team's play at the defensive end of the court, the offense is where there have been significant problems.
Jordan Crawford leads the Wizards with a 12.2-point scoring average, followed by No. 3 overall draft pick Bradley Beal at 11.7.
In Monday's loss to Indiana, the five starters _ Crawford, A.J. Price, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor and Jan Vesely _ combined to shoot 8 for 37 on field-goal attempts (22 percent).
A day later, Wittman said he had yet to settle on a lineup to put on the floor against Atlanta and was considering four combinations.
"Got to do a little bit more thinking, take another look at the tape again, see the things I liked and didn't like," said Wittman, who replaced the fired Flip Saunders as Washington's coach when the team was 2-15 last season.
Part of the difficulty Wittman is having now is that players haven't distinguished themselves by playing well for four quarters on any given night _ or even playing well from game to game.
"I can't figure out the nine (most-used players), it's so up and down," Wittman explained. "The 13th guy all of a sudden looks good, the second guy looks awful."
It doesn't figure to get much easier any time soon for the Wizards, whose next eight games come against teams that all are currently .500 or better. That includes the defending champion Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
"This group should be winning games. We should be _ (even) without John and Nene," Wittman said. "We've got to get them to believe that themselves. That's my job."
Notes: Wizards F Trevor Booker missed practice and had an MRI exam on his strained right knee Tuesday; the team did not immediately have any word on his availability against Atlanta. Booker left Monday's loss late in the fourth quarter. ... Washington began last season 0-8. Before then, the team never started with more than five losses in a row.
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