It could very easily be that deceptive late-season fool’s good; the kind that comes when a team has nothing left to play for, decides to be loose and carefree, and collects a few meaningless wins at the end of the regular season. The Wizards wouldn’t be the first lottery team to offer an end-of-the-year tease.
But after winning their second game in a row, second straight road game, and third in the past four with a 97-91 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, the Wizards believe that they have finally discovered what it takes to have success -- hustle, hunger and going hard. If so, they just happen to be incredibly, frustratingly, tardy.
“I feel like the first 50, 60 games, it was just trial and error,” JaVale McGee said. “We’ve got all of our pieces now. We figured it out now.”
It took 76 games? Granted, the Wizards’ competition in their past three wins hasn’t been the best. Utah no longer has Deron Williams and has been reeling for more than three months. Cleveland is, well, Cleveland. And, the Bobcats have been playing above their heads in the past week, winning four of five, before crashing back to the reality of their limited talent. Charlotte’s playoff hopes weren’t dashed completely, but it’s not looking good.
The Wizards, though, can’t worry about the opposition when they have been among the league’s dregs all season. They’ll take wins against any team (no matter how much damage it does to their lottery position). And, if they can get a win over Detroit on Tuesday, the Wizards could get their first three-game winning streak since April 2008. More importantly, they have 20 wins and won’t have to worry about finishing tied with the 2000-01 and 2008-09 Wizards with the fewest wins ever in an 82-game season.
“We couldn’t been had it. Not having chemistry, not fighting hard with everybody, and doing other stuff, we slipped a lot of games away,” John Wall said after winning in his home state for the first time in his professional career. “We just got to finish the season strong. If we would’ve did this coming out the all-star break, you never know where we’d be right now. We’re just trying to finish strong. To get 20 means a lot, but we want to be a lot better than this next year.”
No matter how long it took, the Andray Blatche who has been on the court the past two games needs to never go away. Blatche has scored 61 points and grabbed 36 rebounds in wins over Cleveland and Charlotte, showing what he is capable of when he mixes his talents with effort. After the game, he was in the locker room belting out the theme the movie, “Dirty Dancing.”
“I’ve…had…the time of my life,” Blatche sang at the top of his lungs. “And I never felt this way before.”
It’ll be hard to expect him to play with this level of sustained energy for a full season, but the Wizards have been waiting on this version of Blatche all season. Blatche still has plenty of room to improve defensively, but he was tenacious on the boards and incredibly agile, slicing down the lane for scoop shots and even finishing with dunks.
“I’m trying to chip in and help us get the wins we should’ve been getting earlier,” Blatche said.
And how about Crawford? He had 23 and has scored at least 20 points in four consecutive games, averaging 27 points on 45 percent shooting over that stretch. Crawford has such a laid back demeanor off the floor, but he is a fierce competitor who has yet to meet a shot that he wasn’t willing to take.
“I have confidence,” Crawford said, recently. “I feel I can make any shot. That probably caused me, when I’m missing, I’m like, ‘Dang, it’s not going in, I got to make the next one.’ I feel I can make any shot. That’s how I approach it.”
That approach can be good or bad, but it worked in favor of the Wizards on Sunday, when Crawford responded to the Bobcats’ 22-9 run -- which cut a 19-point deficit down to six -- by hitting a flurry of ridiculous jumpers, all from beyond 18 feet. After he knocked down a jumper to put the Wizards back up by 12, Crawford appeared to bark at the Bobcats bench before heading back down court.
“I don’t remember that. I didn’t do that,” Crawford said with a sly grin and a chuckle.
Back after serving a one-game suspension, Wall got off to a pretty slow start. So slow that when he finally made a driving layup late in the second quarter, Wall pumped his fist and beat his chest before running back on defense. Wall scored 13 of his 18 points in the third quarter, giving his home fans something to cheer about with two steals and left handed dunks.
“The one game I missed, I was disappointed that I couldn’t battle with my teammates but they did a great job of holding their own and winning a game against Cleveland,” Wall said. “I just wanted to be a leader for my team.”
The night wasn’t perfect for the Wizards, as they still had some lapses and made some pretty egregious errors. McGee also found himself on the wrong end of an insane blocked shot. Late in the fourth, McGee elevated for a dunk, but his former teammate Dominic McGuire met him at the rim and sent the ball backward. Afterward, McGee was shaking his head that somebody got him.
“I didn’t see him,” McGee said. “If I would’ve saw him, I would’ve went up higher.”
Much like this exasperating season, baby steps.