The supposed comforts of home are often absent when the Wizards take the court at Verizon Center, where fans can purchase tickets on the black market for the price of a call from a pay phone, Andray Blatche gets booed every time he touches the ball, and large crowds only come out to support the opposing team.
Already this season, the Wizards have heard Chicago’s Derrick Rose hear “MVP!” chants, Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce draw loud ovations for curch-time baskets, and New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin – author of a spectacular and stunning three-game run – turn the building into Madison Square Garden South.
While LeBron James has been derided during his visits because of the recent playoff history between Washington and Cleveland, the current Wizards aren’t expected to have much support when he brings the Southeast Division-leading Miami Heat to town on Friday.
“We’ve played enough games, we know what the crowd is going to be,” rookie forward Chris Singleton said. “Seems like they are against us the first three quarters and they’re on our side for the fourth. I guess that’s how Washington is.”
With a 4-11 home record and several dreadful displays of basketball, the Wizards haven’t exactly allowed the locals to cozy up to them. But it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.
“That’s tough,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “That’s our job to play to have those guys on our side. Everybody that pays a ticket has a right to root for who they want. But obviously, at home, you want the fans on your side. We’re going to get to that and it’s going to be that way some day.”
That day hasn’t arrived.
For most of his two seasons in Washington, John Wall has grown accustomed to welcoming a crowd that isn’t ready to cheer on the team. After playing one season at Kentucky, where the 23,000-seat Rupp Arena was filled with fired-up fans ready to put a charge into the Wildcats, Wall has found the environment for Wizards games confusing and challenging – especially when big-name stars or top teams arrive.
“Most of the time when teams come inside, we’re battling to get the crowd on our side. So, we make it a good game, the crowd start to turn over and come to our side,” Wall said. “When you got a crowd on your side, playing against these type of teams, it helps motivate you. You get more energy and more life to do certain things. We got to do it even when the crowd might now be on our side that day.”
The Wizards (5-21) have yet to have a sellout this season and rank 19th in attendance at 15,947 fans per game. The players understand that they have to win over fans with an exciting play or two, a little hustle and some fiestiness. “It’s nothing crazy,” Jordan Crawford said. “All we got to do is come out and play, compete and then the fans are always on our side when we compete.”
It happened more last season, when the Wizards went 20-21 at home and at least hung around in many games that they may not have won. This season, the fans got on board when the Wizards pulled out a surprising win over Oklahoma City and, when they won their first game of the season against Toronto to end an eight-game skid and received several standing ovations. But on many occasions, the Wizards have failed to maintain – or develop – a competitive edge.
The Wizards’ 107-93 loss to the Knicks was their fifth double-digit home defeat. Former coach Flip Saunders often described his team as “fragile” and they were downtrodden when the Knicks made a subtle run — in the first half. “Yeah, I think we hung our heads a little,” Trevor Booker said. “That’s something that we got to get over. We got to realize that teams are going to make runs. We’re going to make runs. But when other teams make runs we just got to hold our heads high and just keep fighting back.”
Wall said having to play in sometimes hostile home environments has forced the players to lean more on each other, but he would rather have the fans on their side as well.
“I think it’s tough anyway,” Wall said. “You want them to pull for you no matter what, if you’re losing or winning. It’s tough going through it. We know we’re a family in there so we go out there and just play. We just got to stick together. When times is tough you got to stick together and when times get bad you got to stick together so we just got to stay strong and keep playing.”