It’s only the third game of the NBA season, and already the Washington Wizards face pressure.
The Wizards, who have started the season with two straight losses, now prepare for their Wednesday night home opener against the 2016 Eastern Conference finalists, the Toronto Raptors. Another consecutive loss doesn’t ensure a season of misery, but it goes a long way in unraveling any good vibes the team had entering the 2016-17 year.
The third game shouldn’t be this dire. But for the Wizards, this one could be.
“Next game is a must win for us at home, especially against Toronto,” center Marcin Gortat said after the team’s 112-103 overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night.
When reminded that the Wizards still have 79 more games and six more months remaining on the calendar, Gortat did not relax his sense of urgency.
“Yeah, but it’s a must win,” Gortat repeated. “We can’t dig a hole and start the season 0-3. Nobody wants to do that.”
While Gortat announced doomsday from the corner of the visitors’ locker room, reporters watched John Wall as he watched the end of the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles game Sunday night. Wall, half dressed but fully engaged as a fan, could not peel himself away from the action.
Only after his beloved Cowboys clinched the game in overtime did Wall feel ready to address his own team’s late-game issues.
“We knew what we had [to do], we just didn’t finish the plays, man. We didn’t finish the game,” Wall said. “That’s tough on my part. That’s my job as a leader to finish the job.”
And for good measure, Wall added: “I’ve got to do a better job of closing out the game for our team.”
Last Thursday night against the Atlanta Hawks, the Wizards entered the final quarter trailing by one but surrendered a 26-4 run that spoiled their chances to steal the season-opening win on the road.
Then after two days of rest, Washington held an 8-point lead over the Grizzlies with less than four minutes to play in regulation. Instead of closing out the game, the Wizards allowed a comeback that was punctuated by 7-foot center Marc Gasol popping free for a game-tying three-pointer with 15.7 seconds remaining. In overtime, the Grizzlies, playing on the second straight night, looked like the stronger and more rested team as they scored 12 straight to clinch the victory.
“We let it slip out of our hands. We didn’t play a great game. I definitely didn’t. So I want to take the majority of the blame for it,” Bradley Beal said, joining Wall to take his part in the blame game. “I didn’t show up on the offensive end. We just got to figure out ways to close out games. We had a chance to win in regulation and we let Gasol get wide open for a three. We can’t have breakdowns like that at the end of the games.”
When responding to a question concerning the Wizards’ display of frustration – Wall and Markieff Morris picked up technical fouls – Beal chose an interesting word.
“We were 0-1 and we felt like we desperately needed a win,” he said.
Then, as he was pressed about the Wizards’ desperation just four days into the season, Beal said: “Nah, not desperately but we wanted to get a win.”
Nevertheless, the fact remains: The Wizards need a win soon.
Through the offseason, the team added a new coach who has the right temperament for this fledgling roster. One moment, Scott Brooks will live up to his players’ coach reputation by allowing hip-hop to play during practice. The next, he will stop a sloppy scrimmage and chastise the group for not going hard enough days before the regular-season opener.
Also, Washington added several free agents who float around the 30-year-old mark: Grown men with wives and families and especially the maturity essential for an NBA roster. Although the Wizards did not ‘win’ the offseason, they made a point in creating a new and improved environment and that should have built a positive foundation.
But already it’s come to this. The Wizards face a “must-win” situation and it’s game three.