As if to silence any mention of playoff expectations, the Washington Wizards stumbled into the 2013-14 season with a dismal 2-7 record, dropping contests against the Philadelphia 76ers (now 6-12) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (now 5-12) along the way.
With no timetable on Otto Porter Jr. and early injuries to Nene and Bradley Beal, there’s little wonder why the casual fan passed up opportunities to nab seats at the Verizon Center in recent weeks – tickets for this Friday’s matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks are priced as low as $5.43 on Stubhub as of publication.
But, few could pose strong arguments against fans who voiced their frustrations from the get-go this year. After all, the Wizards’ 2-7 hole still marked the team’s best start in three seasons – Washington began 0-12 last season and 0-8 the year before. Yet, to those who have showed up time and again to fill but some of the empty seats at the Phone Booth – a tip of the cap, to you. Your dedication has, somewhat unexpectedly, paid off.
After all, the very same Wizards squad that started 2-7 reversed their luck by going 7-2, sans Beal for the past five games. With victories over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Minnesota Timberwolves and, on Monday night, the Orlando Magic, Washington is now 9-9 – marking the first time since November 3, 2009 that the team has reached .500. Add to that, the Wizards are the third-best team in the Eastern Conference, with upcoming matchups against the Bucks (3-13), the Knicks (3-13) and Brooklyn Nets (5-12).
“It’s belief, number one,” said head coach Randy Wittman after Monday night’s 98-80 win over the Magic. “[The team] believed at the start of the year that we can compete and win. And, even though it didn’t go that way to start, they never gave into that. They knew we could play better, individually and as a team, and then guys picked it up and began playing better. And, our team became better. And, we are where we are. We can’t relax. Even though we’ve got three days before we play again, I don’t want to lose the edge that we’ve created here in the last 14 days. I like where we are from their psyche and their concentration.”
While the Wizards have made due with the cards they have been dealt, it is largely to John Wall’s credit that the once seemingly lackluster offense has sprung to life in recent weeks. As evidenced last year, the Wizards’ success is largely contingent upon Wall’s ability to move the ball, rather than find the net himself. In fact, Washington is 5-3 in games where Wall has tallied double-digit assists this season, with the 106-105 overtime heartbreaker to Oklahoma City accounting for one of the losses.
“It starts with John [Wall], obviously,” Wittman said when asked about the key to the Wizards’ success. “He’s our leader with the ball, both from an offensive standpoint and defensively. He’s the head of our defense. His play obviously speaks for itself. The stretch that he had last March, early April… I think the stretch he’s had here through this, it means a lot. Just as we talk about how Nene’s important, and Bradley [Beal] is. But, the good thing is we’ve stepped up through his absence and continued to fight and win and do the things that we need to do. So, that’s got to be a positive for everybody. I keep telling these guys, everybody’s got to stay ready. You never know when an opportunity or time’s gonna come because of whatever. I think our guys have done a pretty good job of that.”
The Wizards are now 6-2 at the Verizon Center and have won five straight at home. They will play three of their next four games in D.C. before embarking on a four-game road trip featuring the Knicks, Nets, Celtics and Timberwolves.