Wizards need to tighten defense vs. Celtics

WASHINGTON — The NBA regular season is early but getting late quick for the Washington Wizards, who are struggling defensively and set to face the top two contenders in the Eastern Conference.

That stretch starts with Wednesday's home matchup with the Boston Celtics (3-3) before the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers visit two days later. That's a tough task for Washington (1-5), which that has lost two straight after dropping a 114-106 setback against Houston on Monday.

Of course, the Celtics haven't quite clicked yet this season. Boston enters having lost two straight by allowing an average of 125.5 points in that span.

The Rockets sank 17 3-pointers and pulled away from the Wizards with a 12-0 run midway through the fourth quarter fueled by James Harden. Washington ranks 27th in 3-point defense and has lost its way late in each of its setback.

“I thought we came out with good defensive intensity that gave us that early lead,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Then in order to win an NBA basketball game, you have to do it for 48 minutes, and we have not been able to put it together in its entirety. Defensive disposition is the No. 1 thing that you have to continue to focus on. We have talked about it enough and now we have to do it.”

The Celtics fell 123-107 to the Denver Nuggets Sunday night in their third straight game without center Al Horford, who remains in the NBA's concussion program.

“He has not advanced in the protocol from what I've been told,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters on Monday. “He has not gotten any deeper than that.”

The addition of Horford, a multi-time All-Star, to a team that won 48 games last season had many projecting Boston as the primary threat to Cleveland. Perhaps those high expectations have led to the sideways start. The Celtics are fourth with 110.2 points per game, but rank 28th in scoring defense (111.8).

The Nuggets led 42-23 after the first quarter and shot 52.4 percent from the field.

“We're not as good as we thought we were,” Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas told reporters Sunday. “When we don't come out with a sense of urgency, we're not a good team, and that's what happened tonight.”

The Wizards started strong against the Rockets, but as was the case in previous losses, faded down the stretch.

“Nobody is happy. Everyone's emotions are a little high,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Everybody is mad. We are 1-5. We did not expect it to be like this. We just have to figure it out.”

That won't be easy in this matchup. The Celtics won the series 4-0 last season with three victories by at least 20 points.

Beal, Otto Porter and John Wall, who was ejected with 33 seconds left for picking up his second technical foul, each scored at least 20 points in Monday's loss. Washington retooled its bench this past offseason, but have yet to find consistency beyond its starting five.