Wizards end road skid; changing directions is a steeper challenge

The Washington Wizards have finally won a road game, and now one question remains: Just how bad are the Cleveland Cavaliers?

Actually, another question remains: Can the Wizards win another road game this season? If their current pace continues — one win every 26 road games — then we won’t see another glorious moment like the 115-100 win over Cleveland until sometime next season. John Wall wasn’t far off when he compared Sunday’s victory to Christmas — doesn’t it, too, come but once a year?

Now the Wizards will play out a string of mostly meaningless games en route to yet another trip to the draft lottery. (Note to Irene Pollin: Clear your schedule for May 17 and send that yellow jacket to the cleaners; Ted Leonsis is taking you to Secaucus!)

The sad truth is, there was more buzz about the Wizards during the losing streak than there likely will be the rest of the season. Washington isn’t bad enough to be historically bad; Cleveland has claimed that dubious achievement, along with a mortal lock on having the most Ping-Pong balls in the lottery hopper. But Washington also isn’t good enough to win 30 games this season.

Put another way, the Wizards suffered their worst home loss of the season Saturday night and had an uplifting — at least to the players — road victory the next day. (And I’m sure it’s a relief to a lot of media types who had threatened not to shave until the streak ended — just in time for Valentine’s Day!)

This season has been a similar yo-yo of results and emotions, and that’s not going to change. In an optimistic rundown of the Wizards’ remaining schedule — and I mean pretty darned optimistic — I’ve got them winning 12 more games, which would give them 27 victories for the season. That’s one more than last season and not a surprise given the dearth of talent and experience on the roster. I see the potential for five straight wins early next month — and I also have them losing six straight. (Warning: Watching the Wizards in March could induce actual madness.)

Sadly, this is what rebuilding looks like. If you’re expecting the Wizards to contend for the playoffs next season, then I want what you’re having. This looks like a minimum three-year project, maybe more, especially if the Wizards intend to do it from scratch.

After some missteps, that’s what Leonsis did: He waited more than a decade to own the Wizards, so his patience in the face of this season’s ineptitude is incredible — and maddening to some Wizards fans, who just want him to buy some better players already. However, he’s given no indication that he’s ready to give up on the plan and go with the quick free agency fix.

“I honestly wish there was a magic wand to wave and we could short cut the process,” Leonsis wrote on his blog earlier this month. “I wish I had candy to offer to you. I have been through a rebuild before. It is filled with angst; losses; second thoughts; and differing opinions. It isn’t easy and it isn’t fun and it is why most franchises don’t do it. Most franchises look for a quick fix to stop the bleeding or to placate critics. That isn’t a plan. That is a semi-selfish act to make you feel good as an owner or leader.”

In the long run, of course, he’s right. He wants a team that will contend in the Eastern Conference for years to come, not for one or two decent seasons in which a free agent Wizards team would run smack into the buzz saws from Miami, Boston, Orlando and Chicago, just for starters.

Even just one round of playoffs would be welcome right now — it’s almost impossible to believe that the Wizards and Cavaliers met each other in a first-round series just three years ago — but as a long-term strategy, it’s lacking.

The Wizards are in it for the long haul. If you’re going to go along for that ride, pack the Pepcid and be prepared to celebrate questionable accomplishments like ending a 26-game road losing streak. Because this is going to be as good as it gets, at least for the near future.

And even if the Wizards don’t manage to beat, say, Detroit or Toronto on the road, look at the bright side: They close the season against the Cavaliers. In Cleveland. Maybe they will manage to double their road win total this season after all.

hamiltont@washpost.com

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