Transformed Wizards emerge at season's end

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Sports,Wizards,Pick and Roll,Craig Stouffer

 

It didn’t feel like the locker room of a team that just finished the NBA season with the league’s second-worst record. In fact, it didn’t feel like the Wizards locker room at all.

There were smiles.

There was satisfaction.

There was little talk of individual achievement.

There was hope for the future.

It’s destined to be lost in the glory of the Redskins drafting Robert Griffin III, the Nationals winning games at historic pace, the Capitals advancing to the second round of the playoffs, and even D.C. United’s six game unbeaten streak.

But the Wizards, even with the second-worst record in the NBA, might just have something special, and that’s before they add a top-five pick in the NBA Draft in June. And no, they didn’t beat a full-strength Miami Heat in their regular season finale. But they did obliterate their second-teamers, 104-70, with their own less than full-strength squad, earning their sixth straight win.

“I thought this stretch down at the end of the year, even with a couple of losses that we had, was the best stretch that we played as a team together,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.

He was right. The Wizards finished the season winning eight of their last 10 games. They went 11-14 after the trade deadline. They went 7-4 with Nene in the lineup. They made a pretty compelling argument that Wittman deserves to be considered to continue in his role as head coach.

They were at rock bottom three months ago.

“We were in disarray from the moment that I got here, from the moment I stepped off the plane and seen that we were getting blown out by Philly in the preseason,” Wizards guard Mo Evans said. “It wasn’t looking good. I’m happy to say that it’s the total opposite, that we finished with momentum, that we finished with a strong character team on and off the court.”

Evans had a team-high and season-high 18 points against the Heat, finishing off the NBA title favorites with a pair of second half dunks. He didn’t even care, claiming afterward that he’d had a successful season because of what he was able to contribute in the locker room.

Nene was still stunned that he was getting so much credit for helping to transform the team, which Wittman said was no comparison to how bad it had been defensively before he arrived.

“I just play free here,” he said. “What they say, ‘I didn’t know you were so good.’ I been working the last four summer. I couldn’t shoot in Denver. Here I have the green light to shoot it.”

But it’s difficult for the players who weren’t in Washington before the trade to understand the value of addition by subtraction. JaVale McGee and Nick Young were moved while Rashard Lewis and Andray Blatche were shelved, and all of a sudden the Wizards resembled an NBA team again.

“I think it was the right decision,” said guard John Wall when asked about the difference since the trade. “We had a lot of jokes and stuff going around the locker room, but the energy is more serious, everybody is being on time, taking things more serious, being professional about everything. We just interacting more as a team.”

Wall finished the year with 12.4 assists in his last five games. He’s the fastest player (134 games) to reach 2,200 points, 1,000 assists, 600 rebounds, 200 steals and 90 blocks. Now he’s got the counterweight to his point guard presence in the low block, in Nene and Kevin Seraphin, the latter who proved his ability was no fluke by playing solidly for the last month. The difference between he and Blatche, Seraphin isn’t getting a contract extension he hasn’t earned before next season.

As a team, the Wizards aren’t ready to make claims about their potential. But they realize how far they’ve come since the awful start to the season. After the first game of the year, rookie Chris Singleton was probably the angriest guy in the room. At season’s end, the weight he carried that night appeared lifted.

“It definitely feels good,” he said. “For us, you can see the growth of the Washington Wizards, over the past month, we worked our butts off on the court, and the rest is history.”

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Craig Stouffer

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner