Nick Young passing (a career-high six assists), Kevin Seraphin putting in disciplined big man work (a career-high 14 points, a tied career-high of nine rebounds), Trevor Booker becoming an unmasked monster (a career-high 17 rebounds, eight offensive), and the big hero, Roger “How U” Mason catching fire (4-for-7 on 3-pointers, 3-for-6 in the fourth quarter)… Just what got into these Washington Wizards on Wednesday night in their 106-101 come-from-behind victory over the Los Angeles Lakers?
The perfect union of normally fractured Wizards efforts came together as one against the super powers of the Lakers, aided by Kobe Bryant jacking shots (which you can read about in a piece by yours truly on ESPN Daily Dime). Kobe went 1-for-1o in the fourth quarter, 3-for-18 in the second half, after scoring 20 first half points (14 during a blazing first quarter start in front of what seemed to be Lakers jerseys out-numbering Wizards jerseys 10-to-1 in the Verizon Center). Any John Wall? Presumed by me to be the Wizards’ only advantage, and chance, going into the game? He finished with a mere four points on 1-for-8 shooting with nine assists and five turnovers. Instead, the Wizards got 55 points off their bench. So whatever it was, after being down 20 points with about six minutes left in the third quarter, they’ll take it.
Randy Wittman after the game: “Hopefully this can go a long way for us in terms of that mentality of staying in the game, playing as hard as you can. You never know in an NBA game what’s going to happen, doesn’t matter who you’re playing.”
A turning point for a young team? A brief glimpse of unfulfilled potential? A rare alignment of stars allowing Washington to beat stars? Only time will reveal these answers… as it always does. The Wizards said WHAT? Exactly.
The hawk-eyed Sherlock Holmes once said, “There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” While I can appreciate that bit of wisdom, the Wizards’ spit-roasting at the hands of the Golden State Warriors was no Boscombe Valley Mystery. The Wizards simply weren’t prepared to play — a truth so plain that even Mr. Lestrade wouldn’t miss it.
Precisely when the game was lost, however, is up for debate. I would point to the 12-2 run the Warriors made to end the first quarter, capped off by Monta Ellis’ 36-foot 3-pointer that ripped through the net at the buzzer. That 3-ball gave the Dubs a 41-24 lead, one they would never come close to surrendering.
But Randy Wittman, Flip Saunders’ stand-in, revealed that the game had been all but decided before tip off. In fact, his Wizards may have lost it in the locker room hours before the game.
“It was a vibe that I got from my team that didn’t sit well with me before we even hit the court tonight,” Wittman said in a postgame presser. “We didn’t look like we were ready to play, and that’s my job to have my team prepared to play.
Wizards wins are starting to feel like buying a $5 lottery scratch ticket and winning a dollar back.Hey, a dollar! I won! Yea, but I invested five. No, this feeling doesn’t involve tanking for lottery balls, as getting upset with wins that hurt chances doesn’t matter to me. Although, not relishing in the loss doesn’t necessarily mean my apathy toward the Wizards winning has nothing to do with the fact that it might help. Essentially, I want winning when it matters. This season, it doesn’t. That said, close losses due to low-IQ basketball plays or blowouts due to the absence of hustle are disturbances. Emotion is involved.
Then comes the difference between me having a rooting interest in the Washington pro basketball franchise, versus covering the team, versus the players and personnel who are stopping through at this point in time. Beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-98 on Saturday night was good for them, especially the players. Locker rooms after losses can be fractured, and it goes past what the media sees. Some of us have been apart of this on various levels. Winning unites in more unspoken words than a picture. Good-natured locker room scenes provide much needed boosts to morale, on top of being a reward for the hard basketball work.
The Washington Wizards since the All-Star break, now with one win and two losses, have put on more consistent displays of good basketball, especially the sharing part. The 26 assists against Cleveland is tied for the second most this season (21.7 assist average in the last three games, up from 17.7 before the break). Shooters are finding open shots, percentages are up (eFG% in last three games at 0.502, was 0.456 pre-All-Star break). Plus, partially thanks to Roger Mason and Mo Evans, they are making more 3-pointers — 27 team 3-pointers (12 from Mason and Evans) in the past three games represents 15.3-percent of the season’s total. The Wizards still show bad habits, drop packs of cigarettes on the floor as Randy Wittman says, and are still susceptible to being “fragile,” as Flip Saunders used to say.
Where they will go with the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers, at San Antonio Spurs and at Dallas Mavericks as the next five games on the schedule (followed by four more games of a six-game road trip), we will see. But at least on this Saturday night, the pendulum of locker room moods, personality, and clowning swung to the home side of the Verizon Center. The Wiz Kids felt a little better about themselves, and that’s a good thing. They needed it. Six game losing streaks get old. But the suits, they can always be new, just as long as they don’t smell like cigarette smoke.
Remember the NBA lockout that commenced in mid-Summer 2011 and extended into fall, making all league fans anxious over whether they’d be able to see professional basketball? Seems like a long time ago now that we are at the end of February 2012 and at the halfway point of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. And for the Washington Wizards, whatever has become of this year and whatever is left almost can’t end soon enough, so the franchise can move forward into the next stage of rebuilding and beyond, whatever that entails.
Wizards players certainly remember life during the lockout, and it wasn’t fun. Now, how much non-fun compared to playing on a 7-26 team? Who knows. It’s easy to imagine that they’d all rather be playing the sport they love, and making money doing so. Earlier this season, before the Wizards faced a Jeremy Lin-less New York Knicks team in what would be their seventh straight loss to open the schedule, I spoke with several Wizards players — Roger Mason Jr., Nick Young, Ronny Turiaf, Rashard Lewis, Andray Blatche, Jordan Crawford, John Wall, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker — about the toughest aspects of the 2011 lockout offseason, and about portions of the time off that weren’t all that bad. Watch…
Continued success in team sports is achieved through sacrifice; the best squads accept this, understanding that individual achievements must sometimes be tabled for the betterment of the team—roll tape of Michael Jordan deferring to Steve Kerr in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
When great players are unwilling to make sacrifices, Jordan has confessed, individual goals and accolades are even tougher to achieve. So why do the stubborn Wizards, selfish by self-description, refuse to play team basketball? The better question asks what can be done to change their approach.
The answer might surprise you: ramp up competition for individual rewards.
I have a confession to make: I have booed Andray Blatche. I’m not proud of it, but it happened.
It was a Friday night, and the Washington Wizards, coming off an improbable 105-102 win over Kevin Durant and the Thunder, were hosting the Denver Nuggets. Having won just two games all year, the wretched Wizards were good for a cheap punchline or two every few hours. But they weren’t just the butt of jokes; all-knowing pundits smelled blood in the water and gnashed their teeth in response — even those who had previously supported the Wizards.
“So they don’t have that much talent,” said a presumably well-layered Michael Wilbon on the Scott Van Pelt Show; the very same Wilbon who once maintained the Wizards were on the right track to march deep into the playoffs.