Washington Wizards’ preseason reveals team is a work in progress
By Michael Lee,
John Wall and Kevin Seraphin watched the Washington Wizards’ preseason finale loss to San Antonio together on a comfortable leather couch in the District, as two of the team’s three most tenured players continue to recover from injuries.
Nene was with the team in San Antonio, cheering on his teammates in his warmups even as he remains uncertain about his possible return from plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
The Wizards could’ve easily focused on what they didn’t have this preseason, made excuses about missing their two best players and several other key contributors at various times over the past month. Instead, they used the eight exhibition games as an endurance test to create a more feisty and competitive identity in their absence.
“We proved already that we’re a different team than last year,” third-year forward Trevor Booker said after the Wizards finished the preseason 3-5. “We still have to build some chemistry and get everybody healthy. But I think we like the way things are looking right now.”
Coach Randy Wittman and his players didn’t dwell much on the record during the part of the season that doesn’t count.
With the exception of their 100-85 loss on Friday in San Antonio — when Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza were given the night off to help Wittman make some roster decisions — the Wizards were a tough out in the games they lost and showed resilience during the wins.
They were outscored by a total of 28 points in the preseason. Last year, they were walloped by a combined 32 points in two exhibition losses to Philadelphia that set the stage for a fourth consecutive lottery appearance.
“We’re going to play hard,” Ariza said. “We all play hard. We all try to compete and I think things are starting to come together a little bit better. We’re starting to learn each other more. We’re not all the way there.”
Wall is expected to miss the first month of the regular season with a stress injury in his left knee but the Wizards aren’t sure when they’ll have Nene or Seraphin, who suffered a strained right calf in the third preseason game in Cleveland. Chris Singleton, Booker and Okafor also missed games because of illness and injury.
“Injuries happen. They are inevitable and you can’t do anything to prevent them,” forward Martell Webster said. “When that happens, you have to have guys step up. I tip my hat to my teammates this preseason, because guys stepped up when guys went down and we were able to win some games. That shows you a little bit about our character. That don’t-back-down mentality.”
That mentality manifested itself in more ways than the final score.
A.J. Price got in the face of Brooklyn Nets all-star point guard Deron Williams after the two got tangled up. Jan Vesely smirked slyly and rolled his eyes when Milwaukee’s Larry Sanders confronted him after fighting for a rebound. Singleton exchanged words with Miami Heat all-star and two-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade.
“We have a great group of guys,” point guard Jannero Pargo said. “We all like each other. We all play for each other. That translates well to the basketball court.”
The Wizards played seven of their eight preseason games on the road, traveling north of the border to Toronto, to the heartland in Kansas City and to the deep south in San Antonio. Combined with a week-long training camp at George Mason in Fairfax, the players never had the chance to develop a normal routine and familiar surroundings.
“I probably slept in my bed like five times this whole month,” Singleton said with a laugh.
An unsettled roster also set the stage for some intense position battles that led to some inspired practices and efforts during games.
“We got a lot of competition going on and that makes everybody else work harder,” Booker said. “They know if you don’t play hard while you’re on the court, you’re coming out and somebody else is going to get your minutes. So I think that helps everybody.”
The Wizards waived point guard Steven Gray and forward Shavlik Randolph on Saturday, but still have two more cuts to make before Tuesday’s season opener in Cleveland.
“We had a good preseason and we got to see a lot of people in a lot of different spots,” Wittman said. “I thought our consistency, from my standpoint, was good with the guys we have missing. That’s what we have to do — we go to out and play with that consistency every night and we’ll be fine.”
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