So now that the Wizards have finally peeled the nagging monkey off their back and shot it dead by churning out a win after a dozen failed attempts, the subsequent buzz amongst fans is where do we go from here. While the lone inkling of positivity within this team is derived from their moderate defense, the Wizards still remain questionable in the close-out department as they get set for their showdown against the Knicks in Manhattan tonight.
Despite getting the first dub of the season, the Wizards’ constant late game struggles to definitively close out remained on display after they blew a late 15 point lead against the Blazers. Fortunately, they managed to eventually recover but the issue seems to be one that’ll keep this team on the fence at least until their playmaker John Wall returns to the lineup. However, to our dismay, the timetable for that is still a “TBD”, leaving Wizards fans with their fingers and toes crossed as they anxiously await their beloved star’s first appearance of the season.
The Wizards’ inability to close has been a premiere factor in about 90% of their losses this season. A handful of overtime losses, a few missed calls and a number of mistimed shots and you’ve got yourself 10 losses this year by an average of five points. Most of these games have been comprised of a combination of slow starts and squandered leads, but still the ‘Zards have managed to reach the fourth quarter in position for victory.
A heavy dose of the Wizards’ struggles this season have come from coach Wittman’s ongoing dilemma of rotation instability and the failure to find the right matchups at the right time. More often than not this season, we’ve witnessed the starting five crap the bed in the early goings of ball games, only to have the second unit bail them out and keep the game competitive.
However, in Wednesday night’s win over Portland, Wittman was actually able to get over some of those late game humps, specifically noting his successful decision to plug in Chris Singleton against LaMarcus Aldridge on one of Portland’s key offensive possessions in the final minute, which ultimately phased Aldridge out of the play and resulted in an airballed three-pointer by Nicolas Batum.
As the Wizards hang around in most of these games without Wall and with an uber-limited Nene, a bit of fizz can be heard oozing out of the optimism can, especially after grinding out that first win. But this also amplifies the anxiety for the full health of the two stars as we head into the second month of the season.
An emergency group hug was called before the Portland game earlier this week where coach Wittman reached out to his players and gave them the opportunity to voice their concerns about pretty much anything. The players responded not only with a win, but also by commending Wittman for his approach and expressing contentment with the overall vibe of the locker room, despite the consistent losing.
In the meanwhile, the burning questions are just how much does the relief of finally closing out a game simmer the growing pains of playing with a lackluster roster? Has there been enough momentum gained from the Blazers game to carry into the Garden spotlight tonight? Will there be a new starting five?
The answers to these questions and more, tonight at 7:30.