There are two prevalent visiting locker room atmospheres that I have encountered while covering Washington Wizards home games this season. The team is either distraught due to losing to the lowly Wizards, Charlotte is an example, or the opposing squad is in a professional, low-key mood after picking up a business like win. The Lakers and Knicks games come to mind.
After Indiana Pacers 113-96 shellacking of Wizards last Tuesday night, I witnessed a new hopeful and joyous environment. Pacers’ players were exchanging jovial banter, with Dahntay Jones leading most of the jester activity. After starting the season 17-27 under former coach Jim O’Brien, and then going 9-3 under new coach Frank Vogel (8-3 after beating the Wizards), you could sense the game was fun for them again. Contributing to the happiness was a completely balanced effort from their starters and bench (nicknamed the Goon Squad) in the blowout win with all 12 active players impressively scoring.
Vogel, who was an advanced scout with the Wizards in 2006-07, has changed their style of play, rotation and attitude. The players are buying into the belief that they are a good team and the fresh approach has produced success. Go listen to Vogel’s passionate talk after his team’s victory over Portland a few week backs to get a better sense of his philosophy.
The playoffs are now a legitimate goal as the Pacers sit in the eighth spot of the Eastern Conference. And the Wizards? Well, they’re still seeking that vast change in attitude as a team, and no one knows when that will happen.
After last Tuesday’s game, I spoke with Tyler Hansbrough, Darren Collison and Danny Granger about their thoughts on the new coach, offensive system and high confidence. Collison also chatted about John Wall and the Carmelo Anthony trade.