Wizards have much at stake in season finale

April 17, 2013

What are we going to do here? (Adrees Latif/Reuters)

The Wizards celebrated the 35th anniversary of the 1978 championship-winning Washington Bullets squad during a game against the Pacers on April 6 at Verizon Center and Hall of Famers Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld — whose retired jerseys hang in the rafters — sat down at halftime to discuss that miraculous run.

But before the conversation ended, Hayes and Unseld engaged in a debate about what the current Wizards were accomplishing with a late run of success that lifted them from putrid to respectable.

“It’s a great thing to have that resurgence to win some basketball games, but it’s a good and it’s a negative because of the fact that, you’re not going any place,” Hayes said. “You have a few wins right now but you’re not. Plus, you’re losing the draft choice and you’re getting in an area where you’re not going to get a good player. So is it good to win? Be happy about winning a few games, but what good is this going to do?”

Unseld, letting his inner former NBA coach and executive side out, disagreed and argued that winning should always be encouraged. Hayes shrugged. And the Wizards romped the Pacers, 104-85, improved to 24-19 with John Wall in the lineup and moved within range of the ninth-best record in the Eastern Conference.

The Wizards haven’t won since.

Heading into their season finale with the Chicago Bulls, the Wizards have lost five consecutive games and four key players, including three regular starters. Emeka Okafor sprained his right ankle in the Wizards’ 106-101 loss to Brooklyn on Monday and will join Bradley Beal, Nene, Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza on the injured list.

With just nine healthy players – or eight, if Coach Randy Wittman decides once again to sit seldom-used center Jason Collins – the Wizards will have a tough challenge as they attempt to reach their goal of 30 wins. The Bulls need to win to clinch the fifth overall seed. Derrick Rose won’t play and Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson will both play limited minutes.

The Wizards need to win to ensure that they finish with a winning record with John Wall in the lineup. They are currently 24-24 and could actually conclude the year 26-24 after a miserable 4-28 start.

Washington would also snap a seven-game road losing streak, dating back to an impressive win in Los Angeles, where they overcame an 18-point deficit to defeat the Lakers, 103-100. At 7-33, the Wizards will either tie for the third-worst road record in an 82-game season with a loss or match the fourth-worst mark with a win.

And if the Wizards lose, they still have something to gain in terms of draft position.

Currently tied with Detroit for the seventh-worst record in the NBA, the Wizards are a game ahead of Sacramento (28-53) and one game behind the Minnesota (30-51). Detroit will take on the Nets. The Kings host the Los Angeles Clippers and the Timberwolves will take on San Antonio. Should the Wizards tie with either team, they will have their lottery position determined by a drawing at the NBA office later this week.

The Wizards also have two second-round picks this June.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · April 17, 2013