For a player who once said his mentality leads him to believe that he can be better than Michael Jordan, it would take a lot to get Jordan Crawford’s confidence to waver. He slid to the back end of the first round in 2010 — but kept believing. He was strapped to the bench in Atlanta before getting unleashed once he arrived in Washington last season as a rookie — but never doubted his abilities.
So it was pretty telling two weeks ago when Crawford finally broke out of a seemingly season-long slump by scoring 21 points in a surprising road win over the Portland Trail Blazers, and he confided to his teammates in the locker room, “I was in my hotel room thinking I couldn’t hoop no more.”
This has been a challenging season for the Washington Wizards (7-28) and Crawford, who entered this season with visions of being the starting shooting guard along with John Wall and lost the gig after just two games. Not only has the losing worn on Crawford, but so had his inability to contribute and change the outcome.
Crawford was misused as a backup point guard, shifted back to shooting guard and still struggled to find his footing. But in recent weeks, Crawford has regained his shooting touch in addition to that laid-back cockiness — and the starting job, after replacing Nick Young on Wednesday and scoring 18 points in the Wizards’ 102-95 loss to the Orlando Magic.
“I’ve dealt with it like a man,” Crawford said of an up-and-down season that has reached an upswing. “Everything’s not going to be smooth. Everything’s not going to be great so when you playing bad, you can’t just head hold your head, can’t be too down, and when you playing good, you can’t just think everything’s great. You got to just keep pushing. I want to do it every game.”
After failing to score at least 20 points in 25 consecutive games, Crawford has been on a tear since that game in Portland. Over his past seven games, Crawford is averaging 20.4 points on 51.5 percent shooting (53 for 103). He has scored at least 20 points four times, including a season-high 32 points in loss to Sacramento.
But Crawford said he hasn’t changed his approach from the beginning of the season and is taking the same shots he has been attempting all season. “When they go in, they good shots. When you miss them, they bad shots. That’s the only difference, is they going in now.”
The Wizards will likely need Crawford to maintain his rhythm of late, after Young suffered a bruised right knee in the second half against Orlando. The fifth-year guard was unable to practice on Thursday after developing some swelling in the knee. An MRI revealed no structural damage and Young will be listed as day-to-day. Crawford said he isn’t afraid to carry a heavier load if needed.
“I’m ready to take it on. I ain’t never backed down from no challenge,” Crawford said. “I just be aggressive. That’s my approach the whole game.”
Houston Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson, who coached Crawford during his freshman season at Indiana, said he has had the same attitude from the time he first recruited him. “Don’t ever stereotype him into his situation, whatever it may be. Jordan is always going to believe in Jordan. He’s got a swagger,” Sampson said. “Confidence is a big key to who he is, but his swagger is what makes Jordan special on offense. . . . We’re not going to talk about his defense.”
Sampson added that an underrated aspect of Crawford’s game is his ability to make plays for others. Crawford ranks second on the team in assists with 2.9 per game and took offense on Thursday when asked if he was more comfortable when he only has to focus on scoring. “I think the thing is, as he develops more as a player, people will see what a gifted passer he is. He can really pass,” Sampson said. “And when he realizes, ‘I have the ability to make other players better, and also myself,’ that’s when you’re going to see a more complete player. But you can see him growing. He’s come a long way fast. He’s going to get a lot better. He’s got a big, big ceiling above him.”
But for now, Crawford is more concerned about the success of his team than how well he plays. “I think we got to start winning,” he said. “All of the comebacks and ‘the Wizards hung in there, they’re a young team.’ That’s old. You can only use that for so long. We got to start putting wins on the board.”
That passion is one of the reasons Coach Randy Wittman inserted Crawford back in the starting lineup. “Jordan is competitive, almost to fault sometimes,” Wittman said. “That’s not in a negative manner. He wants to win. He competes and sometimes maybe he tries to do too much because of those instincts of the competitiveness and as a coach, you’d like all your guys to have an edge to them. . . . but he doesn’t need to change anything, no matter if Nick plays, Nick doesn’t play, Nick starts, Nick doesn’t start. Jordan has got to be who Jordan is.”
Wizards note: Forward Andray Blatche (strained left calf) practiced for the first time in more than a month and plans to return on Saturday against Cleveland after missing the previous 14 games.