Wizards have tough stretch ahead

Give me some room to breathe, man. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Give me some room to breathe, man. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

OAKLAND, Calif. – The worst part of the Wizards’ inability to get over .500 against favorable opponents — Detroit, Boston and Utah — is that they might not have that opportunity again any time soon, given their upcoming schedule.

After failing in their sixth attempt to claim a winning record this season, the Wizards now move into the most grueling five-game stretch of the season against several Western Conference playoff contenders, all with winning records. They will conclude the four-game trip with back-to-back games against Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers and return home to play Oklahoma City, Portland and San Antonio.

Washington has already played four of the upcoming teams, losing all four, three by double digits. The Wizards will take on the Warriors on Wednesday and have lost sixth consecutive games to Golden State, including a 112-96 loss on Jan. 5 at Verizon Center.  In that loss, the game was tied at 58 at halftime but the Warriors outscored the Wizards, 30-5, to start the third quarter.

“They came out and demolished us,” John Wall said.

The Wizards encountered a one-man demolition when they hosted the Clippers and Chris Paul scored 38 points on just 14 shots and added 12 assists and three steals to lead his team to a 113-97 victory. Paul was perhaps inspired by Wall’s comments from November – when Wall called himself the “best point guard in the NBA” –   and was a perfect 11-for-11 from the foul line and made 11 field goals, including a three-pointer from 31 feet.

The Clippers won’t have Paul in the rematch as the six-time all-star point guard recovers from a separated shoulder, but they have managed to go 9-3 in his absence. Wall has also never defeated Blake Griffin in six career games against him.

When they played in Oklahoma City on Nov. 10, the Wizards blew a 10-point lead in the final three minutes before losing, 106-105, in overtime. They have won the past two home games against the Thunder, which has infuriated District native Kevin Durant. After the Wizards beat the Thunder, 101-99, at Verizon Center last season, Durant blasted his teammates for not taking them seriously.

“We coasted through the game. We were up 10, 11 points and we got too comfortable,” Durant said last season. “We learned since then, we get a lead like that, we’ve got to step on them.”

The Thunder is missing Russell Westbrook, but Durant has gone bonkers over in the past 16 games without him. Over that stretch, Durant is averaging 36.2 points on 53.2 percent shooting from the field and 39.2 percent shooting from three-point range. Durant has also scored more than 45 points four times and scored at least 30 points in 10 consecutive games, joining an exclusive list that includes Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady.

The Wizards have yet to face Portland this season but they swept both games last season, winning both games by a combined five points. They have played the Spurs, losing a Nov. 11 meeting, 92-76. Afterward, Nene famously called on his young players to “take their heads out their butts” and start playing the right way.

Washington has gone 20-16 since then. With the Chicago Bulls on a recent roll, the Wizards are now just 5-14 against teams that currently have winning records. Against Western Conference opponents with winning records, the Wizards are 1-12, with the lone victory coming on the road against the Phoenix Suns.

“We don’t even talk about going over .500 anymore,” Marcin Gortat said. “We just try to prepare each other, prepare for the next game. we need to have some consistency and start building a streak, a winning streak. At some time, we need to hit that time when we win, three, four, five games in a row.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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