For most of his career on an NBA sideline, Scott Brooks has coached in meaningful March games. In his 10 seasons, Brooks has missed the postseason only twice. This year might make a third occurrence if his Washington Wizards don’t gain ground quickly. But the Wizards coach has felt refreshed during this sprint toward the end of the regular season — which is why he took a question about the intensity of NBA games played in March and turned it into a soliloquy on the joys of spring.
“I think as players or coaches, to me, this is one of the best times because now you’re fighting for a playoff spot, your fighting position,” Brooks said after the team’s Thursday practice. “The tournament’s coming around the corner. It’s March Madness. Baseball season is about to start. . . . The weather has changed, and the time change has happened.”
Before Brooks could sermonize about flowers blooming, birds singing and children playing, he reiterated his point: Nothing quite compares to playing for a purpose. And to Brooks, that pressure’s a good thing.
“We’re in a tough position but a fun position to be in this time of the year knowing that we’re still fighting and playing for something,” Brooks said. “Our guys are still competing. I’ve been on teams where that’s not the case.”
The Wizards (29-39) have won four of seven games in March, including two consecutive wins at Capital One Arena. With another Friday night, Washington can tie the season series with the Charlotte Hornets (30-37) and pull within a half of game of 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards still wouldn’t be in playoff position — they are 3 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Miami Heat — but because only 14 games remain, every one holds consequence.
“I feel like everybody, especially with our situation right now, you can kind of feel the tension within our games,” rookie Troy Brown Jr. said. “I mean, they matter a lot right now.”
The games have grown in importance, and so have possessions that may seem inconsequential at the time.
While Jabari Parker has scored and facilitated off the bench, he also has displayed the bad habit of losing the ball, averaging 3.1 turnovers in 14 games with Washington. During Wednesday night’s 100-90 win over the Orlando Magic, Parker could not hang on to a possession as the Wizards clung to a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter. The turnover, his second of the quarter, could have negatively changed the momentum. Instead, Brooks highlighted that moment — and Parker’s reaction to it — as a turning point.
“I think that was a big moment for all of us, at least for Jabari and myself,” said Brooks, who spent time after Thursday’s practice sitting on the floor with Parker and showing him game video on a laptop. “These guys know where we are and what we need to do and how important every possession is, and sometimes it’s that possession you think doesn’t mean anything, it means everything.”
Washington kept the Magic from capitalizing on the mistake, forcing Orlando point guard D.J. Augustin into a missed three, and Parker spent the final four minutes of the game playing under control by grabbing four rebounds and nailing an 18-footer.
“Every game is important,” Parker said after providing 19 points and nine rebounds in the win. “The pressure is really on us, but it kind of makes it at ease when we’re at home because we’re so familiar with this place.”