Remember what you were doing on Dec. 15, 2006? I’m sure you don’t, but it was a milestone of sorts for the Wizards. That night, they upset Miami 105-96 at Verizon Center. The Heat were the defending NBA champions.
Since then, Washington has faced the defending champs a dozen times without winning once. Will tonight’s game in Dallas against the defending champion Mavericks be lucky No. 13? Almost surely not.
The Wizards haven’t made nearly that much progress since assistant Randy Wittman was promoted in the wake of coach Flip Saunders’ dismissal on Jan. 24.
True, Washington, which was a ghastly 2-15 under Saunders, is a less dreadful 7-16 under Wittman after last night’s 112-97 loss in San Antonio, its 12th straight there dating to the previous millennium when point guard John Wall was all of nine years old.
While Wittman’s guys shocked Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers six days ago, two days after being crushed by the visiting Golden State Warriors, Saunders’ team stunned Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder six days before his ouster and midway between blowout losses at the Philadelphia 76ers.
Also, Wittman benefited from facing the even worse Charlotte Bobcats in two of his first three games. He and Saunders can match victories over the lousy Toronto Raptors. What makes Wittman stand apart from his predecessor are Washington’s back-to-back road victories over the Detroit Pistons (by 21 points!) and Portland Trail Blazers (by 15 points!) last month.
However, the Wizards’ margin of defeat is remarkably similar before and after the coaching change: 13.4 points under Saunders and 13.1 under Wittman. In other words, when Washington loses, as it usually does, it loses big.
Speaking of bigs, the Wizards should take just about any offer they get by Thursday’s trade deadline to take big men Andray Blatche or JaVale McGee off their hands.
In his seventh season, the 25-year-old Blatche is shooting just .375 from the field while averaging just 8.9 points and 6.4 rebounds. And he’s jeered by the home fans virtually every time he breathes. If Blatche helped a blind man across Seventh Street, he’d probably be booed. He needs a change of scenery more than a standup comedian who’s not making the audience laugh.
As for the 24-year-old McGee, he’s averaging career highs of 11.9 points and 8.9 rebounds in his fourth season, but he’s also still driving his coach crazy with his decision-making. Like Blatche and shoot-first, shoot-second Nick Young, who’ll be a free agent this summer, McGee is a link to the pre-Wall days that the Wizards want to put behind them as soon as possible.
It’s odd to think of players as young as Blatche and McGee as old, but in Washington that’s what they are, reminders of the era before Ted Leonsis owned the franchise and began trying to rebuild it in the mold of his Capitals with Wall in the part of Alex Ovechkin.
If the Wizards are going to make serious strides in the next couple of years so a date with the champions won’t be an automatic loss, they need to build around the 21-year-old Wall and some of the rest of the current kiddie corps which includes: rookie forward Jan Vesely (21); rookie forward Chris Singleton, backup point guard Shelvin Mack and second-year man Kevin Seraphin (all 22); shooting guard Jordan Crawford (23) and ever-hustling small forward Trevor Booker (24).
In the mean time, the good news is that there are still 26 games for the young guys to develop and jell. The bad news is that there are still 26 games left – the next five on the road — to endure the Wizards’ ongoing growing pains and their fifth straight season out of the playoffs.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the author of the new book: “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March.