John Wall made his NBA debut on the road in Orlando and the Wizards got annihilated, 112-83, in the most lopsided loss ever for a No. 1 overall pick in his first game. Since then, the Wizards haven’t had much success anywhere, but they’ve basically forfeited most of their games away from Verizon Center.
As they enter a season with legitimate playoff aspirations for the first time since Wall arrived, the Wizards understand that they will have to be a much improved road team to accomplish the goal of playing in May. Before he caught a flight to Detroit for Wednesday’s season opener against the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich., Wall was asked about the importance of the team beginning its journey on the road.
“I probably ain’t won over 20 games since I’ve been here,” Wall said, wiping the sweat from the bridge of his nose.
Actually, Wall has won just under 20 games since the start of the 2010-11 campaign. Over the past three seasons, the Wizards have been an atrocious road team, going 19-96.
They went 3-38 in Wall’s rookie season, losing a franchise-record 25 in a row. They were 9-24 during the lockout shortened season. And last season, they lost their first eight road games – including the season opener in Cleveland – and were 1-15 by the time Wall made his season debut. Wall’s return only resulted in a minimal improvement as the Wizards finished 7-34.
Coach Randy Wittman doesn’t believe that woeful history will have any effect on what happens this season.
“You got to play 41 and 41,” Wittman said, mentioning the home-road splits. “Last year is last year. Two years ago is two years ago. New team, new group, new focus, new ideas of where we want to be. That, to me, it doesn’t matter. To them, I don’t think it does.”
Al Harrington is entering his 16th NBA season and has played on good teams that thrived in enemy territory and bad teams that wilted after sleeping on hotel pillows. The difference in those teams, he said, was mostly in mental approach.
“I’ve been on teams in the past where we struggled on the road, you just like that home cooking,” Harrington said with a laugh. “But, um, the biggest thing is the focus. You have to be focused from the jump ball. You can’t allow a team to get a 15-point lead and be battling back all game and think you’re going to win. The biggest thing is trying to keep these guys engaged from the jump and realize how you have that desperation from the beginning.”
The Wizards have added incentive to get a win against the Pistons, who swept all four meetings last season. Detroit smashed the Wizards in their first meeting, 100-68, and won the next three by a combined 19.
The Pistons have a different look after the additions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings. But Jennings will miss the opener after oral surgery for a hairline fracture of the jaw and impacted wisdom tooth. Neither played last week when the Pistons jumped out to a 24-point lead before pulling out a 99-96 preseason win.
Washington will play six of its first eight games away from home and Wittman said there is no better time than now to taste victory on an opponent’s home floor.
“Go out and get that first game, be it a road game, your first win being on the road,” Wittman said. “There is nothing better than winning games on the road in this league. Hopefully, we can go out and do that.”