Thoughts of the 47-point loss to Utah or the 35-point loss to Brooklyn weren’t dancing through Wizards fans’ heads on Christmas.
But visions of those nightmarish outcomes haven’t faded completely from memory, not even after Washington’s 111-103 victory at Boston.
In a sense, the Wizards triumph came as no surprise. They often play their best basketball when facing the best competition. They entered the contest with a better record against winning teams than their mark against losing teams.
Playing up or down to the opponent’s level is practically standard operating procedure.
When the Wizards play to their potential – which they perhaps maxed out against the Celtics – they’re legitimate threats to reach the Eastern Conference finals. On Monday, every starter recorded double figures in scoring and three had at least 20 points: Bradley Beal (25), John Wall (21) and Otto Porter (20).
Washington came close to its goal last season, reaching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Good health contributed to consistency. But neither has been present this season, with Wall missing 11 games and Markieff Morris missing eight.
“This is as close as we’ve played this year to last year,” coach Scott Brooks told reporters Monday. “Everybody was locked-in during timeouts. Whatever they did before the game, we need to keep doing it.
“It’s obviously a special environment we’re playing in on Christmas day, but you have to do this for 82 games and not let the ups and downs of a long season control your emotions. I thought [Monday] was as good as we could possibly play.”
The question is how they’ll play against conference-worst Atlanta on Wednesday, or when they face next-to-last Chicago on Sunday.
Until the Wizards regularly produce more decisive efforts against inferior teams – like the 27-point beatdown against Orlando last Saturday – we’ll continue to wonder whether they belong among the East’s elite.
Golden State has an excuse for underachieving over the course of 82 games. Winning two of the last three NBA Finals gives the Warriors a pass for regular-season lapses. That’s not the case for the Wizards, who haven’t reached the Finals in 39 seasons.
Glimpses of excellence like we saw in Boston are great, evidence that Washington can be a real treat.
But we need further proof to be sure it’s not a trick.