CINCINNATI — From the time they boarded a bus for the 21-mile journey from Verizon Center to George Mason’s Patriot Center for training camp last month, the Washington Wizards have been preparing for the rigors of an NBA regular season that begins next week against the Detroit Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich. After closing out the seven-game preseason schedule with a 101-82 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night at US Bank Arena, they have traveled nearly 11,500 miles by plane to such diverse outposts as Rio de Janeiro, Baltimore and Lexington, Ky.
The Wizards had some uneven preseason performances, but they don’t expect any problems caused by the early burst of travel to linger once the real season begins.
“I don’t think it’ll have any effect. That’s what this business is,” Coach Randy Wittman said.
Brazil native Nene was given the chance to return to his native country, allowing his teammates to take in the scenic views from the Christ the Redeemer statue or the more meager surroundings of the slum. The franchise returned to Baltimore, its former home, allowing Bullets fans to get nostalgic for the days of Gus Johnson and Earl Monroe. And John Wall got to return to the place he starred in college, allowing his teammates to experience the extreme fanaticism of Kentucky’s supporters.
“I think it was great for us to build team bonding,” Wall said of the preseason journey. “I think we’re taking our baby steps. We know what it takes and what we’ve got to do to prepare ourselves. And now we know these games are going to start counting.”
The last time the Wizards traveled overseas during the preseason in 2008, they returned from Barcelona and Berlin to have a regular season in which Eddie Jordan was fired and the team matched the franchise record for fewest wins in an 82-game campaign with 19. But that eyesore season had more to do with Gilbert Arenas missing all but two games than some extended globe trotting. This season, the Wizards will start without Emeka Okafor, Otto Porter Jr. and Chris Singleton, but they have considerable optimism for a possible postseason berth with the back court of Wall and Bradley Beal leading the way. Beal had a game-high 21 points in the win over Cleveland.
The team has managed to stay relatively competitive defensively and on the glass despite the absence of Okafor, but it has struggled with turnovers and an inability to make perimeter shots, which was expected to be a strength with Wall around to drive and kick to shooters.
“It’s been like a weird preseason. I haven’t really been shooting the ball well. Nobody has really, except for maybe Brad. It’s just weird. But we got to get through that, fight through that,” Trevor Ariza said, refusing to place any blame on the travel. Ariza finished with 19 points against the Cavaliers. “I haven’t even thought about that. That hasn’t been a thought on anybody’s mind. Just out here playing. That’s what we’ve got to do. Just focus on playing and not really worry about anything else.”
Eight NBA teams traveled abroad during the preseason, with Indiana and Houston playing in the Philippines and Taiwan, the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors traveling to China, Oklahoma City playing in Turkey and England and Philadelphia traveling to Spain and England. The Wizards played Chicago in Brazil.
“We used to it at this point. Especially a person like myself. I’ve been traveling my whole life, it feel like,” said Al Harrington, a 15-year veteran who scored 17 points against the Cavaliers. “That’s no excuse. We play the game like everybody else. Everybody else is traveling, too, so it’s an even playing field. We’re close. It’s hard for any team to take that seriousness in preseason. I guess guys are feeling their way through, but we’ll definitely be ready.”
The Wizards will get the day off Thursday and then have five more days to get ready for Wednesday’s game with the Pistons. Wittman is looking forward to having a few days to get his team to correct many of the flaws that became readily apparent during the preseason. “Preseason, you’re everywhere. You’re in Cincinnati. We’ve been in Lexington. We’ve been in Brazil,” Wittman said. “So it gives you a chance to step back and catch your breath. So I do like it, to have that opportunity to clean up and get these guys refreshed.”
Washington will play six of its first eight games on the road, but the players feel that they’ll be ready for the challenge. “It’s the life we chose. And we have to be prepared for it,” Beal said. “We’re going to travel 41 times, so we have to be ready for it. I mean, this is the start of it. Guys are still getting rest. We’re getting our treatment, doing what we need to do.”
Nene said they don’t have a choice: “October 30, it’s for real. So we need to bring it.”