On Wednesday night the Wizards celebrated as if it had been years since they last were a meaningful basketball team. The celebration continued from the court onto #WizardsTwitter and then into the locker room where a giddy bunch of NBA players young, old, and wise were sporting shit eating grins from ear to ear.
From a fan’s perspective there were some mixed emotions to their celebration…In one corner you had the group of people who didn’t like the celebration at midcourt, you know the fans who apparently have not been watching this team for decades and don’t believe a playoff berth after six years is worth celebrating. And then you also had a smaller group led by none other than Thom Loverro of ESPN980 that was still focused on a larger issue that I’m sure will only get louder as the summer approaches: GM Ernie Grunfeld.
To both these groups I say, chill out. Enjoy the moment. What this six-year drought should have taught all Wizards and legacy Bullets fans is that we need to embrace, enjoy and get behind the team that we root for when good things happen — without stipulations. We also need to accept the fact that it is a process.
You don’t just go from losing 277 games over five seasons to a playoff powerhouse. John Wall had to learn to lead all the while the entire composition of the team was gutted and replaced. The chemistry between Wall, Bradley Beal and the rest of their comrades took time and anybody who has watched this team the last few years knows exactly how far they’ve come.
You may not like the architect of the project (Ernie), you may not even be a fan of the project manager (Randy) but we’ve watched a lot of crappy basketball — for some of us multiple decades worth — so let’s not over valuate the accomplishment but let’s also not under appreciate it either.
My bigger concern has nothing to do with accomplishing the first goal of reaching the playoffs, or how or when a player is celebrated, although let’s hope that they got the excitement out before suiting up for the Main Event.
My worry has more to do with how the Wizards finish out the year and what they have to do to be successful in the playoffs. Coach Wittman eluded to this sentiment in his last press conference following the Celtics game.
Allow me to interpret what Coach Wittman said; Washington has seven games left to build on a very impressive win over the Celtics and in order to build on that they have to do what they seem to do very well when they win, and avoid the things they typically do when they lose. How’s that for some John Madden like analysis?
I believe there are a couple factors to the Wizards and any potential postseason success, the first of which is ball movement and a lot more of this…
Outside of good ball movement and protecting the basketball, the biggest factor to whether Washington will be renting time on TNT for the playoffs for a couple nights or setting up for a little timeshare will be their 3-point shooting.
The Wizards are number 2 in the NBA in 3 point shooting, only trailing the Spurs at 38.8% also known as an average of 8.1 out of 20.9 attempts per game. Next closest Eastern Conference team? The Knicks at number 8, shooting 37.1%.
How about the potential playoff opponents?
Nets – 10th at 36.9%
Raptors – 11th at 36.6%
Bulls – 25th at 34.7%
So, like I said earlier, in order for Wizards to be successful they need to be good at what they do well.
Washington will also need to take advantage in an area where they have struggled all season: free throw shooting. Currently, the Wizards are shooting 73.5% from the charity stripe which is 25th in the league and 3rd worst in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the 76ers and Pistons for that great accomplishment. Where is Dave Hopla when you need him?
You cannot give up free points in the playoffs and hitting free throws are a must. Watching Wall miss those free throws at the end of the Kings game gave me an ulcer because #SoWizards history tells us we should be concerned…
Lastly, and most importantly for me will be the players will and passion to play. There have been numerous times this year when while watching the Wizards one could assume the team quit, didn’t show up at all, took a team lightly, got taken out by the crowd, etc etc. The one thing all these cases had in common was the mental aspect of the game, the one that is not quantified by numbers or calculated by basketball geeks watching a game with iPad in one hand and a TI-82 calculator in the other.
Is there a place in basketball for all this analytical stuff, of course there is…a ton of people make a lot more money than I do to crunch those numbers.
That said, I think less emphasis is being made of the actual basketball players, their skills and abilities and their desire to win. In the playoffs they’ll need a combination of all the above factors not just a few.
The Wizards have fulfilled the promise they made to the fanbase at the beginning of training camp and at media day. They made it to the playoffs. Now it’s our turn, the fan base to uphold our end of the deal and without “what if’s”.
We will without a doubt start our playoff journey on the road and we can still be heard and make a difference from miles away. Wizards fans need to be active on Twitter, we need to hashtag the hell out of everything we can and let TNT/ESPN and every other outlet know that we are an amazing fan base that has stuck by our team through thick and thin.
When the series comes home, the game will most likely start at 7 at Verizon Center, which means to get to your damn seats by 6:30. Make the other team fear coming into the Phone Booth. Bring signs to the game, be active in your seats, be loud and let the team know we are behind them the entire game, not just when Wall steals the ball and does a 360 dunk.
If you’re not at the game, host a viewing party, get together with other friends and turn friends who aren’t Wizards fans into new Wizards fans. We did it to Abdullah and now he runs this ship so anything is possible.
The most important thing is to not take any of this for granted because the 2193 days leading up to Wednesday night’s clinch party were excruciatingly painful. Let’s do our part to help make the ride last just a little bit longer into the summer.