When the Washington Wizards returned to practice Wednesday, presumably a session that didn’t dovetail into drama, they did so coming off what one player described as the biggest win of the season.
Washington recovered from a 24-point deficit against the Los Angeles Clippers for a 125-118 win Tuesday night, the second-largest comeback in the NBA this season. In taking advantage of a road-weary opponent, the Wizards recommitted to defense and exhibited far more energy in the second half. The effort cast aside, at least for one night, the turmoil swirling around a team that has underperformed through the early portion of this season.
For Wizards guard Austin Rivers, the game felt like a step toward stability.
“Despite everything that’s happened last week, I think that could possibly bring us together and push us in the right direction, as funny as that sounds,” Rivers said after the team’s light practice ahead of Thanksgiving and a trip to Toronto to face the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors on Friday.
“We went through a lot this week in terms of media and everything, and I thought, if anything, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after all that we have our biggest win of the year,” Rivers said. “I think we have to use this to propel us in the right direction. That doesn’t mean we’re going to win every game, but if we can play the right way and compete like we did last game … it will come our way. I think we’re in the right direction.”
Even after the win, the Wizards remain one of the most scrutinized teams in the NBA.
Washington has spent the week atop of the league news cycle with trade rumors as well as accounts of a contentious practice that led to franchise player John Wall’s fine for cursing at Coach Scott Brooks. Even more, a quote from an anonymous player to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith saying that Wall doesn’t listen to Brooks and “walks all over” him hasn’t played well within the locker room. It led to forward Markieff Morris calling the series of leaks “f---ed up.”
One game did not heal all things, and Brooks knows the victory doesn’t signal a corner turned but thinks the team’s second-half performance could be something to build on.
“We hope that the way we played in the second half, we can put together an entire game and then after that we can put together a couple of games and then after that, we can put together a good week of basketball,” Brooks said. “Right now, we have a half behind us.”
In the morning hours before the Tuesday matchup, Brooks took responsibility for the team’s record, which improved to 6-11 after the win, and even shouldered some of the blame for what happened in the practice.
“I said some things that I regret,” he said.
As a fellow coach, Doc Rivers felt Brooks’s pain.
Ahead of facing the Wizards, Rivers, the coach of the Clippers and Austin’s father, spoke about his experiences dealing with team conflict and admitted he has had players curse at him in a manner similar to what Wall allegedly said to Brooks in one particularly heated exchange. Rivers joked that the best punishment for such an act is to keep a player on the floor for all 48 minutes of the next game.
“I can laugh now because I’m not in it. But I’ve been in it, and I know how hard they are, because even when it’s bad, you know, at the end of the day, if you have a strong relationship with that person, you’re usually going to get through it,” Rivers said.
“It happens. Sometimes it’s good for your team,” the Clippers coach continued, referring specifically to the Wizards’ practice tiff. “Most times it’s not. I’ve always thought the words, sometimes they’re worse than the fights and what is said.”
Though Rivers has his own team to worry about, as a father he has somewhat of a rooting interest in the Wizards. Rivers has noticed the negative tendencies during Washington’s slow start to the season. However, when he accounts for the talent on the roster — and, yes, he’s including his son in this group — Rivers sees a team ready to blow up. He means in a good way.
“They remind me of, like, dynamite that hasn’t gone off yet,” Rivers said.
Austin Rivers hopes that explosion has just happened.
“If there’s any time to turn the corner, it’s now,” he said. “We were just down 24 points to one of the best teams in the West so far, with how they played, and we were able to come back at home. We had the crowd booing us. We had a lot to go against us [Tuesday], and we were able to band together and play hard and win that game. That’s the biggest win of the year, so I think if there’s any time for a ‘boom,’ I think that was it.”
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