Opening Statements: Wizards at Hornets, Game 64 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards at Hornets, Game 64

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Updated: March 9, 2015

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A false sense of entitlement usually breeds unrealistic expectations, and the Wizards are learning a hard lesson in hubris. After unexpectedly winning a playoff series against the Chicago Bulls last season, and watching the landscape at the top of the Eastern Conference change with an ill-fated injury to Paul George and a king’s homecoming farewell being published in Sports Illustrated, the Wizards went from middle of the pack franchise to sexy dark-horse contender overnight. Based on a critical assumption, the Wizards and their fans allowed high praise from the NBA community and an unexpected hot start to the 2014-15 season to create lofty expectations:

“There’s a major difference in the NBA when you flip the page to being a team of expectations as opposed to a team of potential. They were a team of potential last year; now they’re a team of expectations.”

This quote from ESPN reporter Brian Windhorst, used in a Dan Steinberg Washington Post article, best articulates the current predicament of the Wizards. Last year the Wizards were able to play with house money—any spoils were icing on the cake for a playoff hungry sports town. Now that the Wizards actually have a seat at the big boys’ table, it becomes unbearably painstaking to watch the chip stack dwindle. And if expectations are not reached, the team may be left fractured.

The Charlotte Hornets don’t have to worry about trying to reach lofty goals. They find themselves in a situation similar to the Wizards of last season, getting “hot” at the right time. Coming into tonight’s game red-hot, on a five-game winning streak, the Hornets have every right to look at the Wizards on their schedule with a shit-eating grin. (Not to mention the Hornets/Bobcats have beaten the Wizards in five straight tilts, including twice last month.)

Wizards fans should really check their smugness at the door, as these two franchises are a lot closer in stature than some might like to think.

The main variable that separated expectations between the Wiz and Hornets wasn’t the playoff success for the Wizards last season, it was the enduring potential of the self-proclaimed “best backcourt in the NBA.” John Wall was coming off of his first All-Star appearance in 2014 and Bradley Beal had just dismantled future All-Star Jimmy Butler in a first-round series win—most experts favored Chicago.

The signs of a gross overstatement about Wall and Beal’s place in the conversation of elite guards may have been there all along. In that same Team USA scrimmage in which Paul George broke his leg, Wall and Beal struggled against their peers, ultimately leading to both players being cut from the final World Cup roster. Wizards fans could sell themselves on the notion that Wall and Beal would be better off not exposing themselves to serious injury in international competition, rather than realistically comprehending that one of the greatest basketball minds of all time, Mike Krzyzewski, did not think as highly of the duo as they thought of themselves. This is not a hyperbolic piece intended to write off Wall and Beal as potential busts, they’re clearly not, but more so a moment of clarity: at 24 and 21 years old, respectively, there is much room for improvement.

In real-time it may appear that these two teams are heading in completely opposite directions, but that premise may be a little dramatized. Hell, just last year the Wizards lost two close games to Charlotte toward the end of the season before ripping off four straight momentum-building victories heading into the playoffs. Dwelling on the past isn’t going to give Wizards fans any solace, but it is nice to be reminded that good times once existed. As depressing as the current state of the Wizards may seem right now, things can change posthaste.


Teams: Wizards at Hornets
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC
Television: CSN
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Hornets favored by 2.5 points.


There is still much to play for from the perspective of both teams.

The Hornets are still fighting for a potential playoff berth, and with just a half-game lead on the Miami Heat and the equally hot Indiana Pacers they can’t afford any lapses. The honeymoon period between the Hornets and newly-acquired point guard Mo Williams has given the city of Charlotte a jolt of energy that the Wizards can only be envious of, while lamenting the fact that maybe they shouldn’t have waited until the trade deadline—when teams could smell the desperation that exuded from Ernie Grunfeld’s pores—to acquire what remains of Ramon Sessions. Williams has filled in admirably for the injured Kemba Walker, averaging 21.8 points and 8.8 assists in his stint with the Hornets. That type of scoring, play-making, and 3-point shooting would be nice for Washington’s struggling second unit.

The Wizards are fighting for playoff positioning, and with 19 games left find themselves four games behind Cleveland for the 2-seed in the East and six games ahead of the bottom completely falling out and being out of the playoffs. Road struggles have been an issue for the Wiz, as they have lost their last nine tilts away from the Phone Booth. Washington is still searching for answers concerning a dysfunctional offense, while scrapping to maintain the level of defensive efficiency that propelled the team’s 22-9 start. The Hornets won’t be considered world beaters by any standard on the offensive end, coming into tonight’s game ranked 28th in the NBA in field goal percentage (42.8%). If the Wizards want to take the first step to getting the season back on track, it will have to start by locking down on defense and forcing turnovers to create easier offensive opportunities. This game tonight, and another one versus Charlotte on March 27, will undoubtedly have a major impact on where these teams will finish in the regular season standings.

One of the problems with unfulfilled expectations is the need to excuse the failure to meet those expectations rather than look at why the optimism surrounding the once lofty Wiz-Kids-turned-AARP group may have been a little premature. 2015 has been filled with harsh realities for Wizards fans, but from a franchise with only one playoff appearance in the last seven seasons, what did you expect?

 

Troy Haliburton on Twitter
Troy Haliburton
Writer
Troy Haliburton is a native Washingtonian, and graduate of Gonzaga College High School and Morehouse College. He is going into his second season writing for Truth About It, and also writes for sports analytics website numberfire.com. You can find him in a district bike lane in the Northwest neighborhood of Bloomingdale.