April 5, 2016

Presiding Over The Wizards' Demise

All I can say at the beginning of this post is it wasn't supposed to be like it ended up being this past weekend. 

Early April. Sunny Los Angeles, California. Wizards. Clippers. Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Gilbert Arenas. Clipper Darrell. Me. Both teams in the thick of the playoff hunt, their destinies already sealed except for some jockeying for position. Would the Wizards finally get home court advantage for the first round of the 2016 playoffs? Would there be a division title still in the mix? Is a 50 win season achievable for the first time since the 1970s? Is Bradley Beal a Most Improved Player candidate? Is Randy Wittman finally getting the respect he deserves? I expected all these questions to be still unanswered when I bought tickets to the Wizards-Clippers April 3 afternoon tilt back in November.

Instead, my four day weekend in the City of Angels started with not one but two TSA officers at National Airport letting me know that my beloved hoops team was not likely to make the playoffs when they saw me in my Wizards jacket right before I assumed the position for the millimeter wave scanner. Not that their words were any sort of a surprise to me and they were really commiserating not taunting. I expected a Sunday loss to the Clips a few weeks ago when I tallied up the potential Wizards wins for the rest of the season in a vain attempt to convince myself we actually stood a chance at the postseason. That evaluation included wins against the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves. Oops!!!

At the beginning of the season, I had a choice for my second road game of the 2015-2016 season: Lakers or Clippers. I chose poorly.

Now before you start to feel sorry for me (other than the automatic and constant pity you feel for me because I'm a Wizards fan who actually has a blog about being a Wizards fan), no time in Los Angeles is a waste. I love L.A. Always have since I first visited in 1993. And my almost ten year absence before I went back this time was the longest I've had since I first fell in love with the city. So between visiting Griffith Park and Watts Towers; eating in Koreatown, at an In-N-Out Burger, with Jeffrey Katzenburg at Spago and at Sammy Hagar's joint in Hollywood; taking a TMZ bus tour of WeHo and Beverly Hills (mostly); and checking out the Sriracha factory in Irwindale, the Wizards game was the only real bump in the road.

This game of course was the latest stop of The Quest, my project to see the Wizards play every opponent in every city in the NBA. It was by far the farthest I've traveled to see a Wizards game but hey, eventually I have to make it to Cali, right? Like four times. Why not pick this year to start? I love these trips because they are an excuse to get out of town and it gets me to other NBA arenas to experience buildings other than Verizon Center. One of the big draws here is the atmosphere at other teams' games, which as good as television is, you just can't capture on the idiot box.

So let's start with Staples Center, since I really want to put off as long as possible what happened in the game. Staples is one of those arenas which is free from the tight urban constraints of a packed city center. Sure, it's downtown but if you've ever been to downtown Los Angeles, you'll know there's not really much going on down there so there's a ton of space to build things. In the decade I've been away, it looked admittedly a little friendlier but it's still dead when the workday ends because nobody really lives or goes there. What that means inside the building is wide open concourses with lots of stores and restaurants arrayed around the perimeter of the place in whatever size they really want. It makes for tons of circulation and display space on the way to your seat, which I guess is nice if you can get it. I'm starting to think Verizon Center has less space inside the building than all the other NBA arenas, which might be right.

Gilbert Arenas (brown hoodie thing) talking with Wall and Beal. Don't ruin it, Gil.
Outside the building, the abundance of city space means the building can sit on the site however the designers want. In the case of Staples, they pulled the building back from some of the curbs to create some open plazas right outside the doors to the place. This allows crowds to form without clogging up the sidewalks (a la Verizon Center) and also lets people get out of the building quickly. There's a large public plaza across the street from the building to the north to add even more space, right across from the main entrance with statues of Lakers and Kings players and somehow Oscar De La Hoya. Yes, Oscar was from Los Angeles but he only ever fought once at Staples Center, a loss to Shane Mosley in June of 2000. 

What was most impressive to me about Staples was the arena space itself. Unlike Verizon Center and a number of other arenas I've been to, Staples felt much more like a building in the round rather than a space whose seats are decidedly rectilinear. We sat in the corner of the arena (is there any other place I'll sit?) and had some great views of the court. We were oriented properly rather than having to sit parallel to the court and look diagonally. That was a nice touch. 

I also appreciated the way the space was lit and the atmosphere before and during the game, mostly due to the fact that most folks showed up on time!!! From the time we walked in (90 minutes before gametime by the way) to the time we left, the seating area, from courtside to the last row in the upper deck was in the dark, which kept the focus completely on the lit court where the action was. They do this at Madison Square Garden and it really helps de-emphasize the crowd and focus on the game. Might be a great suggestion for Washington; it might help hide the half empty lower bowl at tipoff.

I was honestly surprised by the crowd, too. Who are all these Clippers fans? I'm assuming this is a phenomenon spurred by the recent success of the team. I assume if the Wizards ever get this good that this might happen to our building too. Might. Might also take a while to get this in gear. This season is a complete momentum killer.

Did Doc really have to put his kid up there?
There were one or two other notable touches around the arena that I appreciated and some I didn't. I love that the Clips strip away all the Lakers banners for their games so it looks like a Clippers arena. Of course that makes the space completely free of trophies. I didn't even manage to find the two division championship banners L.A.'s second team has managed to win in its entire history (maybe they were behind the scoreboard?). But I'm not sure I'm crazy about the substitute for all those banners which is a multi panel mural of some of the current team's players (above). I have no real problem with this other than the fact that Austin Rivers (the coach and general manager's son) is up there with the people who really matter. You already gave him $3 million for two plus years, Doc. Do you really need to give him a banner too?

I also liked the eight panel scoreboard which allows the game action to be shown on the four main panels and the game stats on the corner panels (see below) and pays attention to people closer to the court by adding screens on the underside of the assembly. But I didn't appreciate the stats and scores disappearing every so often in favor of "Let's Go!" or other sorts of chants (see above) and I didn't like the fact that the player numbers and not their names were displayed. You really have to know your stuff here to keep track of who's who. Not necessarily a problem for me, but I just want the names there too. Plus assists are missing, which is really important to a John Wall-centric team.

Finally, I guess there was a game going on. In the worst world ever, the Wizards could have been eliminated from the playoffs this year with a loss to the Clips with me in the building. The team managed to stave off elimination for a game at least by beating the Suns in Phoenix Friday night so I knew there was no danger of that yet. Although they theoretically have another chance tomorrow night at home vs. Brooklyn. Can't possibly do that, right?

So as the score above indicates, the game wasn't quite the blowout I feared. We at least had a chance in the final minute. But the Clippers clearly demonstrated they were the better team, with the exception of the beginning of the third quarter when they decided they were going to play Wizards ball and just not even bother rebounding. The ball movement was better, the shooting was better and even the defensive rotations were better, although that may have had more to do with the Wizards stagnant offense than the home team's D.

Ultimately the Wizards demonstrated about as much desire to win this game as they have in a lot of games this year. Bradley Beal shot 2 of 16, John Wall and Markieff Morris picked up Ts and Marcin Gortat had at least one inexcusable defensive lapse. This team in my opinion can't wait to be done with this season. They appear to be running from the playoffs as fast as possible. Or maybe they are just choosing to stand still and have any chance at the postseason pass them by. This is not the game I wanted when I bought it in the fall of 2015. But I guess you can't always get what you want. I suppose there's always next year. Pretty discouraging stuff right now. Better beat the Nets tomorrow. Go Wizards. For the next week or so anyway.

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