In their past eight games at Verizon Center, the Washington Wizards have encountered seven defeats, lost to the league’s worst team in overtime, watched an opponent score 38 points on 14 shots, trailed by at least 25 points three times, had the scoreboard on the HD screen black out momentarily and had another game delayed twice because of a leaky roof. They have greeted generally apathetic fans with mostly lethargic efforts, been routinely booed, struggled to close out games and appeared unfocused and undisciplined.
The confounding home performances have coincided with Washington’s most successful stretch of road wins since the team drafted John Wall first overall in 2010. In their past nine away games, the Wizards have garnered seven victories, made a game-winning layup in the closing seconds, rallied back from two deficits of at least 15 points and recorded two double-digit wins — including a 102-88 victory on Monday over a Chicago Bulls team that had yet to lose in 2014.
“Sometimes, you think you maybe don’t have to have that same intensity as you do on the road and that gets you in trouble. I think sometimes you can fall into that,” Coach Randy Wittman said Tuesday. “I don’t care what it is. We’ve got to figure it out. I don’t want to make excuses for that. We haven’t won at home, we’ve got to change that. That’s the bottom line.”
Wittman, though, may have discovered a solution with the two-time defending champion Miami Heat paying a visit on Wednesday.
“Maybe we need to put the red uniforms on,” Wittman said, cracking a smile. “I’m going to petition for that. Probably too late, they’re already in town. Maybe we’ll take the fine and go red anyway.”
But the Wizards (17-19) won’t need to change uniforms to recreate the road mentality against Miami. The Heat is perhaps already feeling at home after paying a second visit with President Obama at the White House on Tuesday afternoon, in celebration of its second straight NBA title. And ever since the Heat formed a superpower with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the crowd at Verizon Center often leans toward the side of the visiting team.
“We need a little more love,” Nene said of the fans at Verizon Center. “Because my last two seasons, I saw they’re cheering too much for Miami. We’re going to play hard and if they cheer for Miami, we’re going to take the victory because that’s extra motivation. Now if they enjoy us, support us, we’re going to play much better at home.”
The Wizards lost in Miami, 103-93, when the teams met in the third game of the season but Washington didn’t have Nene, who missed the game while dealing with a sore right Achilles’ tendon. Nene has played 28 of the past 33 games and was reinserted into the starting lineup in Chicago after coming off the bench on a minutes restriction in his previous 12 games. The Wizards are 10-7 with Nene in the starting lineup.
“We need a signature win like that on our résumé,” Wall said. “It’s going to be amazing. You know they’re going to have their Heat fans in here, with their jerseys and cheering for them, but we’re going to have our great side of fans here. You can’t control how that goes. Hopefully it makes us feel like we’re on a road game.
“The main thing is, we’ve got to play the right way, play the way we’ve been playing on the road,” Wall said. “Find a way to play that way at home, especially against a .500 team. We’ve haven’t done good against those teams this season, like we did in the past and we’ve got to come out here and play with some effort or a sense of urgency or it can be an ugly game and a lot of highlight reels for them.”
Miami (27-10) has had trouble summoning its best efforts against inferior competition. Eight of the Heat’s losses are against teams with losing records, including its last two road losses to New York and Brooklyn. But the Wizards have had their own woes against teams with winning records, losing 14 of 15 games against teams that are currently above .500.
“Whenever you play against the Heat, an elite team in this league, you always feel as if there is a chip on your shoulder. You want to try to beat them,” Bradley Beal said. “That’s not an excuse for any other team we face, but it does light a fire up under us a little bit. We have to come out with a lot of energy, because we know they can put a team away in a heartbeat. We have to be ready to go from the jump.”
Wall blamed the Wizards’ problems at home, where the team is 7-9 this season, on lacking the proper focus before the game, suggesting that the players “play around” and get distracted by other non-basketball matters. Center Marcin Gortat said the Wizards play better on the road, where the team is 10-10, because they are considered the underdog and play more freely.
“We can focus in the hotel. In the locker room, we’re sitting in one little room and trying to get ready for the game. I don’t know, at home, too many rooms, too many places you can go. You can dance and sing and do all that [stuff], I don't know,” Gortat said. “It's going to be a process for us to become more mature. I don't think Miami is going to be a problem because that's a big game. Everybody knows that. I'm 100 percent sure everybody is going to come out ready to play. I hope we finally going to break that rhythm at home and we're going to start winning.”