As Randy Wittman headed to his car after watching the Mystics play at Verizon Center last week, John Wall’s mother, Frances Pulley, spotted the Wizards coach in the parking lot and shouted, “Your boys better be ready next year!”
If the Wizards are going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, they are going to have to avoid some of the chemistry and injury pitfalls of the past. And they are going to have to overcome a challenging schedule to start the season.
The NBA released the schedules for all 30 teams for the 2013-14 campaign Tuesday night, and the Wizards will face a stiff challenge from the jump, playing six of their first eight games on the road, where the team has been dreadful in recent seasons.
Washington will have an early matchup against LeBron James and the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat (Nov. 3) and a three-game swing against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder (Nov. 10); Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks (Nov. 12); and the defending Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs and Tim Duncan (Nov. 13).
The Wizards will open the season Oct. 30 on the road against Detroit, a team that matched Washington’s 29-53 record last season. The Pistons swept four games against Washington in 2012-13 and upgraded this offseason by signing free agent Josh Smith and trading for point guard Brandon Jennings.
The home opener at Verizon Center is two nights later against Philadelphia, with the new-look Brooklyn Nets — who added Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry this summer —breaking up the stretch of road games Nov. 8.
Since Wittman has been in Washington as both an assistant and coach the past four seasons, the Wizards have a history of slow starts. Last season’s was the nadir — the Wizards lost a franchise-worst 12 games in a row and started 4-28.
Injuries, primarily to Wall and center Nene, contributed mightily to those early woes. Wittman has implored his players to arrive healthy and in shape when training camp gets underway Sept. 28.
“That’s really important, and that’s all we’ve talked about all summer long,” Wittman said last week. “That we come in when we come in for training camp ready to go, ready to get after it, grow together as a team and when the season starts we’re ready to go. Last year, we all the know the struggles we had at the start of the year.”
The Wizards were also woeful away from Verizon Center, finishing with a 7-34 road record. Since Wall arrived in 2010, the Wizards have been an atrocious road team, going a combined 19-96 away from Verizon Center the past three seasons. This season, the Wizards don’t have a trip longer than four games, and both come during swings out West: Phoenix, Utah, Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers (Jan. 24-29) and Sacramento, Portland, the Lakers and Denver (March 18-23).
Washington will face Cleveland on ESPN on Feb. 7 at Verizon Center in a game involving No. 1 picks (Wall, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Bennett) and No. 3 picks (Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.) from recent NBA drafts.
The Wizards host Dallas on New Year’s Day for the second year in a row. They also will have a season-high five-game home stand that month, beginning with visits from the Heat (Jan. 15) and Chicago (Jan. 17) and former MVP Derrick Rose.
Durant will play his only game in Washington on Feb. 1.
Former DeMatha standout Victor Oladipo, the second overall pick in June, will return home as a member of the Orlando Magic on Dec. 2. Former Maryland center Alex Len, who went fifth to Phoenix, should play his first game as a pro at Verizon Center on March 26.
The Wizards also will have 19 sets of back-to-back games, including three from Jan. 10 to 18 and another grueling stretch of six games in nine days from Nov. 19 to 27.
Wittman has gone just 47-84 (.359) since replacing Flip Saunders, who lost 15 of the first 17 games before getting canned in January 2012.
His career record is 147-291 — he has never won more than 32 games in any season — and Wittman is still seeking his first postseason appearance as a coach after foundering previously in Minnesota and Cleveland.