The Wizards will continue their pursuit of 30 wins in the season finale on Wednesday in Chicago but no matter what happens, this has been an eventful season of ups and plenty of downs. They started without John Wall and Nene and will end without Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster…and Nene.
Washington parted ways with Jordan Crawford but avoided much turnover from a roster that has undergone a dramatic transformation since the rebuilding efforts began three years ago. The Wizards opened with 12 straight losses, are currently on a five-game losing streak and are headed toward a fifth straight lottery season. But there were some highlights in between.
Wall returned from a stress injury in his left knee to lead the team to respectability, make his teammates better and provide some spectacular performances; Beal established himself as a promising rookie; Webster and Ariza formed a quality small forward tandem that resulted in no drop-offs whenever they subbed for each other; Nene and Emeka Okafor helped the defense finish in the top third of the league for the first time in 10 years; and Coach Randy Wittman held it all together, keeping the team encouraged through a difficult, 4-28 start.
Here are the moments that stood out:
1. Bradley Beal hits game-winner over Oklahoma City
Coming off a humiliating loss the day before in Miami, where the Heat scored the final 21 points, the Wizards arrived at Verizon Center on Jan. 7 to face the Oklahoma City short on healthy bodies. John Wall had yet to make his debut and Nene and Jordan Crawford, the team’s leading scorer at the time, both sat with injuries, forcing Coach Randy Wittman to ask Trevor Ariza and A.J. Price to return from injuries a little earlier than expected.
Undermanned and hosting the defending Western Conference champion Thunder, the Wizards played well above their heads and even connected on two four-point plays. But Kevin Durant wasn’t going to go down easily against his hometown team. He led a furious rally and buried a three-pointer to tie the game at 99 with 36 seconds remaining.
2. John Wall gets career-high 47 in win over Memphis
Once again shorthanded, and down to just eight players, the Wizards returned home for a one-game reprieve from a difficult stretch in late March. John Wall was coming off an unceremonious ejection the previous game against Golden State after a verbal altercation with Warriors guard Klay Thompson. But he found a way to make amends – and have a signature game that raised optimism in his future as a franchise building block and helped turn some his biggest detractors into believers in his abilities.
Wall erupted for a career-high 47 points and added eight assists and seven rebounds to lead the Wizards to a 107-94 victory on March 25. He dominated one of the league’s best defenses and showcased the improved jumper and expanding offensive game that he spent the entire offseason working on with famed trainer Rob McClanaghan.
3. Wizards help Nene get revenge with wins over Denver
Nene was incredibly emotional about playing his first game in Denver nearly 10 months after an almost 10 year relationship ended when he was traded to Washington for JaVale McGee. In his return, Nene received a hardy welcome but was hardly a factor as the Wizards pulled out one of the most stunning victories of the season. The Nuggets have only lost three games at home this season and one was against Washington, the second-worst road team in the NBA.
Beal scored 23 points and finished out the game despite injuring his right wrist on a hard foul from Kosta Koufas and Wall saved the 112-108 win on Jan. 18, when he came from behind to help Martell Webster and blocked a driving layup by Ty Lawson.
The two teams met again on Feb. 22 and the Wizards again stunned the Nuggets, becoming the only team other than the defending champion Miami Heat to sweep the season series against Denver. Beal again had a hard fall, Wall made a huge jumper and Nene had a game-saving block – again on Lawson – to secure the 119-113 win.
4. Wizards honor 1978 championship team
Members of the greatest team in franchise history returned as the Wizards recognized the 35th anniversary of the 1978 Washington Bullets, who proved that the opera isn’t over until the fat lady sings while claiming the organization’s only championship trophy.
The Wizards raised a new championship banner at Verizon Center and gave fans replica championship rings. And as Hall of Famers Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes argued the merits of the Wizards’ late-season surge, Wall again destroyed one of the league’s best defenses as he scored 37 points in a 104-85 win over the Indiana Pacers. The Wizards haven’t won a game since.
The one-win Wizards lost then-starter Ariza to a strained left calf in the third quarter, had to absorb a triple double from three-time MVP LeBron James and even received fewer cheers than Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in the first half. They still pulled out a shocking 105-101 win over the defending champion Miami Heat.
Washington turned the tables on Miami as the ever-confident Crawford scored 22 points and taunted James before he missed two critical free throws. Kevin Seraphin had a double-double and Nene rebounded a James miss that could’ve tied the game in the final seconds.
6. John Wall and Trevor Ariza lead Wizards to come back over Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers were getting ready to make a final push for the postseason when the Wizards arrived on March 22 at Staples Center. They brought back injured players Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant to finally field their ideal lineup with Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Meta World Peace and took an early 18-point lead.
But before Jack Nicholson and other Lakers fans could celebrate an easy win over a pushover squad headed to the lottery, Wall and Ariza combined to lead the Wizards to a rare and impressive road win. Wall was the driving force, finishing with 24 points and 16 assists and accounting for 42 of the final 47 points in a 103-100 victory.
With his son, Tajh, around to celebrate his fifth birthday, Ariza made a career-high seven three-pointers and scorched his former team for 25 points. Nene added five points in the final two minutes, including a go-ahead layup. The Wizards still barely escaped as Bryant broke free from Ariza but missed a potential tying three-pointer as time expired.
7. Jordan Crawford buzzer beater in Portland
When Wall returned to the lineup and Beal began to emerge as a solid backcourt mate, Crawford was eventually squeezed out of his role as the focal point of the Wizards offense. Crawford became more marginalized as the Wizards won with him sidelined because of a left ankle injury.
But in one of the few games that Crawford accepted his role as sixth man, the third-year shooting guard rescued the Wizards by burying a deep, buzzer-beating three-pointer in a 98-95 victory. Crawford scored 13 points and was mobbed near the Wizards’ bench in a clumsy celebration. Nene and Martell Webster also combined for 48 points.
A month later, Crawford was dealt to Boston after he grew disgruntled by his role.
8. John Wall makes season debut in win over Atlanta
The Wizards chances of making a postseason run were basically eliminated after the team lost 28 of its first 33 games. Wall spent three months sidelined with an injury that delayed what he had hoped would be a breakout third season and raised concerns about the influence that he could have on the franchise.
He needed a third injection to take in his left knee or he would’ve needed season-ending surgery. After practicing for more than a week and switching from Reebok to Adidas, Wall finally made his season debut and led the Wizards to a 93-83 win. Wall scored 14 points, including two game-clinching layups, to help his team snap a six-game losing streak to the Hawks.
9. Emeka Okafor saves game and a life as Wizards get first win over Portland
During a franchise-worst 0-12 start, the Wizards became a league-wide laughingstock and had several heartbreaking defeats. So it was understandable that the first win wasn’t going to come easily. The Wizards built a 15-point fourth-quarter lead over Portland before going scoreless for nearly seven minutes and surrendering 17 straight points.
Crawford made a go-ahead three-pointer and Okafor added two free throws to secure the 84-82 win with 39.1 seconds remaining. Fans at Verizon Center boisterously celebrated the victory and Okafor managed to rescue one unfortunate spectator who fell over a railing as he ran to the locker room.
10. Martell Webster goes for a career-high 34
Scooped up from the free agent scrap heap after getting dumped by Minnesota, Martell Webster rebounded from two injury-plagued seasons and found a solid landing spot in Washington. After signing a one-year, $1.6 million deal with the Wizards, Webster regained his confidence and became the team’s most accurate threat from three-point range as he connected on 42.2 percent from long distance.
Webster was at his best on March 16 against Phoenix, when he buried a career-high seven three-pointers, had a Michael Jordan shrug and scored a career-high 34 points – in his eighth season – in leading the Wizards to a 127-105 win over the Suns. He became the first Wizard to reach 30 points in a game this season. Before his season ended with an abdominal strain, Wall “hands down” encouraged the Wizards to bring back Webster next season.