When John Wall returned from his left knee injury last season, the Wizards suddenly became one of the NBA’s toughest teams to beat at home. They finished the regular season 18-6 at Verizon Center, which was the seventh-best mark over that stretch, and 10 of those victories came against teams that advanced to the playoffs.
The Wizards started this season as if they would continue their dominance at home, winning six of their first eight games there. But since they pummeled the Orlando Magic, 98-80, on Dec. 2, the Wizards have lost four of their past five home games, including Wednesday’s 87-78 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
“We got to get back to playing at home. I told them that,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We’ve let some games slip away here and so we’ve got to rectify that. Starting [Friday], we’ve got to try take care of our home court. When you do that and have the mental capability that we’ve shown on the road, you can take off and do a lot of positive things.”
Oddly enough, the Wizards have won four of their past five games on the road. They are 7-9 away from home and already matched their season total from last season, when the team went 7-34 on the road. Washington was 6-19 on the road last season after Wall returned.
“I really don’t know what it is. Hopefully we can start changing it around” on Friday’s game against Toronto, Trevor Booker said. “I’m not sure what the difference is, with us home and on the road. I knew we had a lot of close games at home, we just haven’t been able to close them out. On the road, we have.”
The Wizards have consistently made clutch plays on the road. Bradley Beal hit a game-winning layup in New York and buried a game-sealing three-pointer against Brooklyn. Trevor Ariza made a huge three-pointer in Boston and Wall made a huge jumper in the final minute against Detroit. Their past four road wins were decided by a combined 21 points.
But the poise they’ve displayed on the road has been nonexistent of late at Verizon Center. They lost in overtime against Milwaukee after blowing a five-point lead with 54 seconds remaining, missed three shots and committed two turnovers in the final 30 seconds against Denver and went without a field for more than four minutes in the fourth quarter against Dallas. The Los Angeles Clippers won by 16 points, but the other three losses were decided by a combined 14.
“Yeah, I think just a couple of lapses that we have at certain games where we wasn’t playing the right way. We’ve got to be able to have a team that can make plays down the stretch and [Wednesday], we didn’t have no plays,” Wall said. “Just got to close out games. We gave a couple of games away here.”
The Wizards have been playing at a much higher level in their past five games on the road, in comparison to the past five at home. They are scoring more points (105-92) and hooting better from the field (47.8-42.4) and three-point range (46.5-27.8) Washington has defended better at home, holding opponents to just 91.3 points and 44.2 percent shooting, but the defense has had to be staunch, considering how little the offense has produced.
“We feel comfortable both ways,” Wall said. “It’s something about when you get a lead and you get a chance to put a team away, you’ve got to do that. On the road, we’re the team that people want to put away, but we’re finding a way to fight back and win. But when we’re home, we got to find a way to keep that lead and push it to another level so teams don’t have a chance to fight back.”