On most fronts, the Washington Wizards’ season thus far has to be considered a success. John Wall has developed into an elite point guard, Bradley Beal and Nene have stayed relatively healthy, and the Wizards have even flirted with the .500 mark.
Yet, heading into Wednesday’s matchup against the powerhouse Miami Heat (27-10), there’s something that still eludes Washington — a signature victory against one of the NBA’s top teams.
The Wizards are 17-19, but only one victory has come against a team with a winning record, a 108-101 triumph over the so-so Atlanta Hawks on Nov. 30. In 14 other tries against teams over .500, Washington has come up empty.
“We have to find a way to win games and solidify ourselves where we want to be,” Wall said.
Part of the problem is out of the Wizards’ hands. The Eastern Conference is filled with inept teams and then Indiana and Miami, so they’ve wound up playing plenty of affairs against teams with their own struggles. But “bad” teams like Brooklyn, Chicago and the Knicks have started to heat up, so feasting off bottom-feeders may not be a successful strategy for much longer.
When the Wizards have gotten an opportunity to take down one of the big boys, the pressure seems to get to them. In the 15 defeats against winning teams, Washington has lost by an average of 11.6 points, including two unsightly blowouts against the Pacers.
“We go through and take some shortcuts and you just can’t play that way,” coach Randy Wittman said prior to Monday’s win at Chicago, which is still under .500. “You take a shortcut here or there, you get burned and now you’re down six, 10, 12.”
Last year, even though Washington was a weaker team, the Wizards racked up impressive wins against playoff squads Miami, Oklahoma City, the L.A. Clippers, New York and Chicago, in large part by holding court at Verizon Center.
It’s a different scenario this season, with Washington owning just seven home victories, tied for second-fewest in the NBA behind lowly Milwaukee. What’s behind the home-court woes?
“I have no idea,” guard Bradley Beal said. “We just have to come out with a lot more energy, and a lot more aggressiveness I guess. I think sometimes we take it for granted the skills we have, and what we are capable of doing as a team, and we let other teams come in and just take our house from us.”