Wizards realize work isn’t done after reaching ‘one of our goals’


We made it! (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Kevin Seraphin wanted to commemorate the Wizards’ first playoff berth since 2008 with a photograph that would be transmitted through various forms of social media. Seraphin, Trevor Booker and John Wall are the team’s longest-tenured players and have had to endure some rough rebuilding years since being drafted in 2010, including a season in which Washington finished with the league’s second-worst record just two years ago.

After collecting his fellow draft mates, Seraphin got veterans Trevor Ariza and Al Harrington, but Wall wanted Bradley Beal to come around as well. Beal was concluding an interview in the locker room, but his teammates were getting impatient.

“C’mon Big Panda,” Wall screamed, using the nickname that Beal’s teammates have given the 20-year-old shooting guard because of his sizeable appetite.

Beal made his way over to the group, and Ariza asked where he needed to look. But as the six players struck a pose, Andre Miller came out of the shower, wearing only a red towel and shower shoes, and walked right in front of shot. Laughter filled the room.

“My bad, y’all,” Miller said, after forcing his teammates to take another picture.

Miller wasn’t the only Wizard who seemingly wound up in place that he didn’t belong Wednesday night. Marcin Gortat also had a peculiar moment in the third quarter of the Wizards’ 118-92 victory over the Boston Celtics. Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo brought his team to a huddle at the foul line, and Gortat wrapped his arms around Rondo and Celtics forward Jared Sullinger and leaned in to listen.

“I just got to do my scouting, and Rajon Rondo was kind enough to let me in,” Gortat said with a laugh. “For a second, I felt like a Celtic, I made my dream come true. Check that from my list.”

Miller and Gortat may have been out of place, but the Wizards (39-36) are right where they expected to be at the start of training camp. The season wasn’t without its trials, as the Wizards lost seven of their first nine games, couldn’t get over .500 under February and has dealt with injuries to Nene, Beal and Nene again to take the franchise back to the postseason for the first time since 2008 and just the fifth time this millennium.

“When I first got traded here, of course, there were questions on what’s going to happen and what will the team look like,” said Ariza, who joined the Wizards in 2012 as part of a trade that shipped Rashard Lewis to New Orleans. “There was always talent here, but can we put it together and make something, was the question. We did. We came together in a year and a half, and it all came together. We reached one of our goals. We reached it later than we thought we would, but we got there.”

The Wizards drafted Wall first overall in 2010, just a few weeks after Ted Leonsis took over as owner. Leonsis’s patience had run out on being in the NBA draft lottery and delivered a no-excuses edit to both President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman that he wouldn’t accept missing out on the postseason again.

“From day one, these guys have made it playoffs or bust. There was nothing less than playoffs. That’s the way they’ve approached it every day,” Harrington said. “It was a challenge, it a was long road. John being here four years and never getting a sniff. It was a losing culture. Today is a new day and I think things are changing.”

Harrington played a big role in helping his teammates calm down as they prepared to face the Celtics by reminding them after Tuesday’s practice that they were one win away from getting into the playoffs. The New York Knicks weren’t trying to help and had won their past two games in Golden State and Utah, which would’ve also helped Washington get in the playoffs.

The Wizards led by just 12 points at halftime, but Wittman noticed his players were checking the score of the Knicks’ game against the Brooklyn Nets in the locker room. At the time, New York was up 33 and Wittman told them, “We have to go out and do it ourselves.”

“I knew they were itching for this,” Wittman said of his team. “You could sense a little tension. They are young guys who have never been in that position to secure a spot, to get down to eight games, I anticipated that. Now we’ve got to go out and keep this momentum going and playing in a rhythm going into the playoffs in a couple of weeks.”

Wittman said he expects the Wizards to be “more freer” down the final stretch, but there wasn’t much satisfaction in just making it to the playoffs. With fans giving the Wizards a standing ovation after the game, the players met up at center court, where Wall dipped, leaned and swayed, performing a little dance to celebrate. But the veterans reminded each other that the job has only begun.

“We get excited for a win,” Gortat said. “We are thinking like we won the championship. It was just a simple win. It was obviously good to clinch the spot in the playoffs, but we still got seven games to play and we just got to perform. It’s not over yet.”

The Wizards are just 1½ games behind Brooklyn for fifth place and have a two-game lead over the Charlotte Bobcats and can’t act like they take off the rest of the season.

“I mean you celebrate tonight and get ready to go on the road and win another game,” said Wall, whose team plays the Knicks on Friday at Madison Square Garden. “That’s the main thing for me is to try to finish the season as strong as possible and prepare ourselves for a great playoff seed spot. You don’t want to slip to seventh or eighth spot, and got to play one of those other teams. It don’t really matter who you play, you’re going to have to play them at some point, if you make it to the second round. We just got to go out there and play the right way – we know Brooklyn is right there, we know Charlotte is right there – and try to get a better seed.”

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

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Michael Lee · April 2, 2014