From the glum looks and lack of energy in Tuesday practice, veteran forward Al Harrington could sense his teammates were still hung over from a disappointing loss a night earlier in Charlotte.
“Everybody was kind of zapped,” Harrington said.
The 100-94 defeat to the Bobcats was upsetting for several reasons. The Wizards blew a 16-point second-half lead and a chance to take a four-game lead over the Bobcats for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and also wasted its first opportunity to clinch the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008.
After his teammates moped through practice, Harrington decided to speak up when they gathered for a huddle to remind them that the situation wasn’t as bad as it appeared.
“We need one win,” Harrington said he told them. “I just pretty much want to the guys to take the pressure off themselves. [Charlotte] was a tough loss and the biggest thing I didn’t want was to come in here and kind of let this spiral down the wrong direction because of it. Just for guys to kind of forget about it and let’s go and take care of business” on Wednesday against Boston.
The Wizards (38-36) have lost six of their past nine and have failed to win more than two in a row at any point in March. Harrington believes that the Wizards’ recent struggles have come as a result of being distracted by seeding and matchups instead of concentrating on what’s most important.
“When we came together for media day, all we said was, ‘Playoffs.’ We didn’t say, ‘Two seed. Three seed.’ None of that. We just wanted to be one of the eight and we’ve got that opportunity,” Harrington said. “We just got to cherish the moment. Try to have fun with it. This will be our first time, John [Wall] and those guys’ first time in the playoffs, so it’s about getting there. So once you get in there, you can grow and move on from there.”
Bradley Beal is one of seven players on the Wizards’ roster without playoff experience and said Harrington’s words went a long toward getting the team relaxed and refocused as they get ready to host Boston.
“He gave us a nice little spiel, and it was motivational at the same time,” Beal said. “So hopefully, we’ll be able to come out with a lot more energy and focused and in tune and ready to go from the start. I think we’re kind of excited for us to be able to do something we haven’t done since…’08, I mean, it’s definitely been a long time and for us to be able to do it ourselves, rather than relying on another team is a great accomplishment for us.”
With a magic number of one, the Wizards could also become a playoff team with the next New York Knicks’ loss. While he would prefer to have the Wizards control their own destiny, Harrington doesn’t feel that it should matter how the team reaches the postseason.
“We put ourselves in the position where with eight games to go, we need one game to get in,” Harrington said. “To me, that’s a huge accomplishment for this team. For anybody to downplay that is not being fair to us.”
During their five season postseason drought, the Wizards had a combined 117-277 record of and twice finished with the league’s second-worst record. They recorded the most wins of that stretch last season, winning just 29 games. Harrington said the Wizards are on the right trajectory and should experience some rough patches with Wall and Beal leading the way.
“If you look at the history of the league, young teams are inconsistent. That’s just the way it is,” Harrington said. “You’re asking guys in their second or fourth years to lead a team. That’s hard. That’s a lot to ask of these guys, there’s going to be ups and downs, peaks and valleys. But at the end of the day, I think they’ve done a great job. But it’s a process.
“To go from a bad team to a mediocre team is a lot of work and to go from a mediocre team, to a good team – where we’re not talking about playoffs, we’re talking about winning a championship, we’re talking about beating Miami and all that. That’s another step,” he said. “But we’re taking the step of being a horrible team to being a mediocre team to being a playoff team and then we can grow from there. I think people need to start giving this team a little bit of props, because it’s been six years since they’ve been and we’re one game away. Nobody expected this, we’ve just got to find a way to win a game and start building for the playoffs.”
Andre Miller agreed with the message Harrington conveyed after practice but he doesn’t want his teammates to get satisfied with just getting in, “because it’s eight games left. You don’t want to look at it like it’s one game and we’re in the playoffs. You still want to position yourself, so I look at it trying to win every game going into the playoffs and trying to get some confidence, so I’m not really worried about one game.”