The greatest game of the Washington Wizards’ 2016-17 season was a loss.
That’s according to John Wall, who in the past has labeled the Feb. 6 overtime defeat to the Cleveland Cavaliers, 140-135, as the season’s top moment. The LeBron James bank shot from three that tied the game near the end of regulation still takes up space in Coach Scott Brooks’s mental storage drive.
“I still think of it. I mean, I had the best view in the house,” Brooks said Sunday ahead of the Wizards’ preseason matchup against Cleveland. “I could’ve probably contested it from behind. It was a great shot by one of the best to ever do it. It was just a great night for us.”
That night, despite the result, likely encouraged Bradley Beal to declare last May how the Cavaliers didn’t want to see the Wizards in the playoffs — even after his team’s season had ended.
The game served as an announcement of maturation and moxie in the Wizards’ historical season, one that swelled team confidence and pushed players on to the franchise’s first division championship in 38 years. It was a watershed moment for the Wizards — but a drop in the bucket for the Cavaliers.
On Sunday, Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue was asked if that night did “anything to your team at the time?” He answered with a chuckle.
“I don’t think so,” said the man who has coached in the last two NBA Finals. “I mean, I don’t really remember. It was a long time ago.”
Herein lies the difference between a confident contender and a calm champion: The Wizards measure themselves against the Cavaliers; the Cavaliers are occupied with winning in June.
“When you’re at the mountaintop,” Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson said, “you should never be looking below you.”
Though Cleveland is projected to sit atop the conference once again, the Wizards don’t particularly enjoy the role as star gazers. From the main mouthpieces for the locker room, Washington believes its ready to improve from last season’s 49 wins and dethrone the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions. In a recent interview with ESPN, Beal said: “I feel like we’re the best team in the East, I really do.”
As Lue responded to questions about the Wizards before the game, he showed respect for his opponent, as NBA coaches always do. But a flub revealed how little he spends thinking about Washington.
“If you’re a competitor, you’re supposed to think highly of your team,” Lue said, when asked about Beal’s “best team in the East” comments.
“And they’re a good team, made it to the Eastern Conference finals last year. Bringing back a lot of the same pieces, so he feels confident about his team. . . .”
A reporter cut in, reminding Lue that Washington did not make it to the Eastern Conference finals. His team did.
This might have been a simple slip of the tongue by Lue, but Jefferson was steady and clear when explaining Cleveland’s self-possession. Jefferson, an NBA veteran of 17 years, finished his handful of grapes, then volleyed verbal darts without even raising his voice.
“We stand firm that it’s never about the opponent,” Jefferson said. “If we play our game, we do what we do, we are going to be one of the best teams. We believe that we can win any game and you have to be able to take all takers but we don’t consider [the Wizards].”
In other words, the Cavaliers do not concern themselves with matters inside Capital One Arena.
“I have no idea about their free agent pick ups. I don’t know about who they added on their coaching staff. I don’t know who they drafted. I know they re-signed Otto Porter, I saw that,” Jefferson said. “But you know, the one thing that everyone should pay attention to is their own house first.”
“I stand pretty firm with take care of your own house,” Jefferson said, continuing the metaphor. “Pay attention to what’s going on in your house and in your backyard and with your kids and with your family before you starting looking at other people.”
The Wizards are banging on the palace doors but until they meet the Cavaliers in the playoffs, with a chance to back up their beliefs, their knocks will be ignored.
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