The home finale in a truly forgettable season was a chance to bid a positive farewell to the ‘faithful’ at the Verizon Center. But instead of earning win number 30 for the first time since the 2007-08 season, the Wizards displayed what has become the norm since their last playoff run by missing opportunities, lacking energy, and dropping a very winnable game to the Philadelphia 76ers, 97-86.
The embarrassing part of Washington’s recent slide has been the public declaration the team made that they were gunning for the 9th seed in the Eastern Conference (in case you are very unaware of the NBA’s playoff structure, only the top 8 teams from each conference qualify. Perhaps you may consider this to be pointless effort. Perhaps you may be right). I for one have said that I’m on board with this pursuit, if only because it’s more valuable for these young players to learn how to win than to marginally improve draft stock in what some people are calling the worst draft in the lottery era (since 1985), or at least since 2000. So the assumption was that while other teams would probably take their foot off the pedal, the Wizards could earn some wins and achieve the ultimate moral victory. After losing their 4th straight game tonight, that objective is officially out of reach.
So what exactly happened tonight? The Wizards have been a successful team at home all year, coming into the game with a 22-18 mark and were playing a 76ers team that had to run laps at practice if they were too successful on offense. Washington got off to a hot start, led by John Wall who scored 13 in the first quarter and held a 31-24 lead after one. But just like so many Wizards teams in the past, this one forgot that effort was required for the remainder of the game. They scored just 55 points the rest of the way, and ended shooting a semi-abysmal 41% from the field. The $27 million power forward-center combination finished with the mind blowing numbers of 16 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, and SEVEN TURNOVERS. Cartier Martin led the team with 37 minutes, yet somehow finished with just 6 points, going 2 for 8 from the field. And steady-hand backup point guard AJ Price attempted a ludicrous 7 3-pointers, with zero makes to show for it. Yes, the Wizards were short-handed with Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza scratched from the lineup, but their absence doesn’t excuse this performance. Outside of John Wall (who put up another stellar performance, notching 24 points and 7 assists), no one even tried to fake interest in the outcome. The Wizards don’t deserve to be a good team until they understand all the nuances that go into doing so. If the Thunder or the Heat or the Spurs were to lay down every time they faced an inferior opponent in a generally meaningless game, they wouldn’t be heading for 60 wins and championship aspirations. Getting up for the good teams isn’t enough. All 82 games count towards the final record, and Washington made it clear they aren’t really interested in each of those contests equally. Enjoy the 9th spot Philadelphia – you deserve it.
See below for a few key points that stood out to me during tonight’s game:
•John Wall may be turning into the next Kyrie Irving – and not in a good way. Wall continues to refine his game and find new ways to score each time on the floor. He maintained his aggressiveness tonight, getting to the line 10 times. But as the game wore on, he started to get gassed from carrying the load of his eleven decrepit teammates. Let’s hope he doesn’t become the lone shining star on consistent 25 win teams – a la Uncle Drew and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
•It’s quite telling that in a game that carried no weight, Jan Vesely could still only get on the floor for a 5 measly minutes. Either Wittman was sticking to his plan to gun for the best record possible, or the former #6 pick is just not in Washington’s future plans. Given that he has no discernible basketball talent, I am not opposed to that reality but might as well use this stretch run as one final audition to find out.
•On a lighter note – booing Nick Young? Really? I get that he is a piece of the puzzle that represents a very dark era for Wizards’ basketball, but Swaggy P balanced out his head-scratching, hair-pulling moments with just as many electric, fascinating performances. He lifted us to our two biggest wins last season (vs. OKC and LAL) and always had the ability to bring us back from any deficit. No, we didn’t win a lot in his tenure, but you can’t say it wasn’t an interesting ride.