“I don’t think we can afford to look at anybody’s record right now and critique them and whatever their record might be because we’re under .500,” Beal said. “It’s important. We’ve got four more at home during this stretch and we’ve got to get all of them. Definitely one at a time.”
A 4-9 record has a way of creating tunnel vision and the Wizards are holding tight to the banal truth that they must focus on one game at a time. If they do look up, however, they might notice this is a stretch of games they must have.
Over the next eight days, Washington will play four times, including twice against vulnerable Eastern Conference teams — the Cleveland Cavaliers, struggling in the post-LeBron era to the tune of a 1-11 start, and the Brooklyn Nets, who lost breakout player Caris LeVert to a gruesome leg injury on Monday night.
If they take care of those opponents, the Wizards will be just three games under .500 heading into rematches with the more challenging Portland Trail Blazers (Nov. 18) and Los Angeles Clippers (Nov. 20).
If they don’t, Washington will plunge back into a November free fall that could impact its drive toward a third straight postseason appearance.
“We’re in no position to judge anybody,” Austin Rivers said. “We feel like this is a good home stand that can turn everything around. We’re taking it game by game. That’s what we’re doing.”
Although five months remain on the NBA calendar, the Wizards have already felt the sting of the schedule. Over the first four weeks of the season, Washington has experienced the third toughest strength of schedule, according to NBA.com writer John Schuhmann. Eight of their first 12 games came on the road and almost immediately, the season went sideways. Early low lights included a 51-point blitzing by Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry and the blaming of anonymous teammates for having “agendas” after a loss in Sacramento.
Then last week, the Wizards found a way to muddle up this current stretch of seven consecutive games against under .500 teams by losing to the Dallas Mavericks then failing to recover from a 25-point hole in Orlando on Friday night.
This homestand, the next two games in particular, could be the Wizards' life preserver as they try to keep afloat in the standings. Washington started Monday night 2 1/2 games out of eighth place in the East, a fact not lost on the fans who showed up to Capital One Arena.
The crowd for Monday’s game was announced as 15,346 but through the first quarter, it seemed like far less in size and sound. Fans were so quiet that players' squeaking sneakers filled the noiseless arena and Magic Coach Steve Clifford could be heard commanding defensive instructions from at least 50 feet away.
By the third quarter, when the Wizards were down, 75-65 — the fourth straight game in which they’ve trailed by double figures — the joyless atmosphere became too much for one Wizards fan. From his seat in Section 104, Row L, Phillip White stood up and cried out to no one in particular: “Are we playing in Washington? Or are playing in Orlando? C’mon, man!”
Rivers couldn’t blame the fans for taking their time to warm up. After finishing the most recent road trip with a 1-2 record, the Wizards need to start winning to win back some of their loyalists.
“You got to give a reason for the crowd to come to the game. S--t was empty, man,” Rivers said. “It looked like a high school state championship game. I was like, ‘golly!’ "
Eventually, the home fans came along — White, seated next to his wife and two grandchildren, happily swayed and sang along to the chorus of DMX’s “Party Up” once the victory was secured. Around him, other Wizards' faithful cheered Jeff Green’s efficiency (6-of-7 shooting with four three-pointers), John Wall’s proficiency (25 points, 10 assists) and the team’s improved defensive concentration (seven blocks and 41 rebounds). Several more games like this and who knows, the Wizards might have something to really scream about: surviving the first quarter of the season.
That’s the belief for Dwight Howard, who’s pushing a new mantra for the team: “Nobody’s going to remember November.”
Proclaimed Howard: “It’s early in the season and by the time the season ends, nobody’s going to remember how we started. They’re going to be happy with how we finished.”
Two seasons ago, the Wizards turned November into a distant memory in pulling off the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history, winning 49 games after beginning the season at 2-8. This year, the hole expanded to 2-9 but Washington can’t keep expecting to make history while salvaging seasons. Instead, the Wizards can help themselves now. Monday was a start, and it must continue for the rest of the homestand.
“We’re just trying to string these games together to get back,” Rivers said. “We just figured it out. Probably two or three weeks ago, we lose that [Monday night] game. We were down 10 in the third quarter at one point, but we just kept at it. We were down 10 versus Miami, we kept at it, you know what I mean? This is growth. So I’m just looking at it as that, that we’re growing.”
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