The two primary tenants of Verizon Center have been kicked out for most of the next two weeks to make room for elephants, tigers, clowns and amateur basketball players. The Washington Wizards and Capitals will each be allowed a one-day visit before heading out again, providing the intermission between the circus and the East Region of NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Beginning Monday in Charlotte, the Wizards will play six of their next seven games on the road, traveling as far west as California and as far south as Florida, in 12 nights. Beginning Tuesday in Pittsburgh, the Capitals will play seven of their next eight games on the road over 15 nights, staying mostly on the East Coast with the exception of two games, on back-to-back nights, in Winnipeg.
The carnival-sideshow schedules have created a different type of March madness for two franchises that haven’t had much success outside of the comfortable surroundings of home.
“We can’t complain about it. We didn’t make the schedule, so we just got to live by it,” Wizards rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal said. “We definitely have to take care of our bodies. . . . make sure we’re nourishing our bodies and resting as much as we can. We know these flights are a killer, a pain in the butt, but it is what it is.”
After Charlotte, the Wizards (23-44) will travel to Phoenix (Wednesday), the Los Angeles Lakers (Friday) and Golden State (Saturday), return home for Memphis (March 25), then head back out to Oklahoma City (March 27) and finish in Orlando (March 29). The Wizards’ practice court will be available the day after they host the Grizzlies, but with arena workers making preparations for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, which will be held March 28 and 30, the team plans to practice in Oklahoma City before taking on the Thunder.
“I looked at the schedule and kind of had to do a bit of a double take. It is an awkward schedule and it’s only going to pose a problem if you let it,” Wizards center Emeka Okafor said. “I think it will be a good test. A good way to see how we’ve progressed and we’re coming into in a good mind-set. We just want to keep playing and hopefully have good carryover. That’s fun. It’s part of it.”
The Capitals will leave Pittsburgh for a back-to-back set in Winnipeg (Thursday and Friday), then head to New York to take on the Rangers (Sunday) before coming home to host the New York Islanders (March 26). They will be home for a few days, then head out for games on consecutive nights in Buffalo (March 30) and Philadelphia (March 31) and conclude at Carolina (April 2).
“In this next little bunch here we’re going to have to find a way to get points,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said.
The Capitals (12-15-1) will have to experience some success on the road, where they have a 4-8-1 record, to improve playoff hopes that are dimming by the loss. They’re currently 13th in the Eastern Conference and sit six points out of the playoffs with 19 games left in the 48-game, lockout-shortened season.
“It’s our season right now. We’re going on the road, we’ve got to win games,” Coach Adam Oates said before Sunday night’s game vs. Buffalo. “Collectively, we talked this morning as a group: We’ve got to do our job and we’ve got to show up for work every night.”
The Wizards swept their most recent three-game homestand and have a winning record at Verizon Center after 35 games (18-17) for the first time since 2007-08, the last time they advanced to the postseason. But they have been the NBA’s worst road team this season, losing 25 of their 30 games away from home.
“We’ve been upset in terms of the way we’ve played on the road this whole season and we want to make sure we come out with a focus, the same focus we have when we play at home,” Wizards guard Garrett Temple said. “We’ve been playing magnificent at home and lackluster on the road so we want to come out these next four games on the road and really have a focus about our game and come out and compete and try to win.”
Though they are 18-14 since John Wall made his season debut, the Wizards are 4-10 on the road, shooting more than seven percentage points worse from the field (42 to 49.1), 14 percentage points worse from long distance (33.6 to 47.8) and scoring more than 16 points fewer per game (86.8 to 103.1).
Since Wall was drafted first overall in 2010, the Wizards have gone just 17-87 on the road. They will play 11 of their final 17 games of the season away from Verizon Center.
“It’s a game of will. Mind over matter,” Wizards forward Martell Webster said. “We have something to prove to ourselves, not to anybody else, but to everybody in this locker room. We need to go out there and make some noise, and that’s the most important thing. But it starts with what we do in the locker room, fighting for each other, buying into the system. We’ve been doing a great job of that the last month. I think if we continue that we’re going to end the season very strong.”
Katie Carrera contributed to this report.