“Now we have,” Nene said, taking a deep breath, “fresh air.”
The Wizards might be able to breathe a little easier after snapping a franchise-worst 12-game losing skid to open the season, but they still have 69 games left and every other team in the NBA has at least three victories. No longer winless, they are still in the dark.
“It’s only one. It’s still a long season. We’ve got a lot of digging to do to get up out of this hole,” veteran forward Trevor Ariza said after his first win with the organization. “I don’t think that we can relax. We’re only 1-12.”
After going 216 days between victories that count, the schedule won’t allow the Wizards to relax with their next four games against teams with winning records, beginning on Friday in New York. The Knicks, who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 10-4, walloped the Wizards by 38 points and held them to a franchise-low 22 field goals when the teams last met in April.
“We have faith every game that we’re going to win the game,” rookie Bradley Beal said after getting his first NBA win. “There’s no doubt in our minds, nor did we think going in, ‘We’re about to lose.’ We showed that we’re capable of winning now, and we just have to keep it up, keep doing what we’re doing.”
The Wizards’ unexpected slow start — even with John Wall yet to play because of a stress injury in his left knee and Nene limited to just three games, in a reduced role, because of plantar fasciitis — opened up the team to ridicule from national basketball pundits and even some of their own fans; a handful showed up to recent home games wearing paper bags on their heads.
But Coach Randy Wittman and his players all denied that outside negativity eroded their spirits or had any influence on the victory over Portland.
“That’s going to happen when you’re 0-12, guys are going to make fun of you. That’s our business. . . . Nobody wants to be in that position. Those guys don’t want to be in that position,” Wittman said. “When you get to this level, you’ve got to have some thick skin. You’ve got to be able to overcome those kind of things. And for the most part, these guys have. We have battled and battled and battled, with a few exceptions and that’s not an easy thing to do.”