Early to mid-August. This is the time of year when I'm crawling up the walls of my condo trying to fight off the shakes of NBA withdrawal. It's almost mid-way between the end of Summer League and the beginning of training camp. I'm sure the NBA would love it if everyone out there got the cravings like I do. They'd mint money during the season. Oh, wait a minute, they already do that.
So what am I to do to solve my need for hoops? I get this way every year and I really don't know the answer. Fortunately for me, the 2016-2017 NBA Season schedule dropped today and that will at least scratch my itch for a bit.
This is the best day of August every year NBA-wise. I love this day. Finally a chance to see what lies ahead and start thinking about a time when the Wizards are tied for first in the division, conference and league with, well, every other team at 0-0. Time to mark the calendar with opening day. Time to see who's playing on Christmas Day. Time to take it all in and digest the whole thing for like two hours before the nothingness that comes after for the next month plus.
I've now done all the taking in. Here is my annual lucky seven things I get out of today. Yes, there's a ton that's similar to the last three posts that I've written. What can I say, I look for the same sorts of things every year.
1. The First Dozen
Assuming everyone remains healthy through the summer, training camp and preseason and assuming John Wall heals sufficiently from offseason knee surgery to start opening day, the Wizards return all five starters from last year for the start of the season. That's great news. I'm not sure how many teams can say that this year in the NBA.
The flip side to that is pretty much everyone else on the team is brand new. Just Kelly Oubre, Jr. and Marcus Thornton remain on the bench from last season which means I expect a lot of growing pains at the beginning of the season. Growing pains here translate for me to turnovers, defensive lapses and losses. So it would really help if the league gave the Wizards a friendly opening, right? Maybe three or four games against Brooklyn and Philly in the first dozen or so?
Well not so much. But it's not brutal either. Yes, there are games against Toronto, Memphis, Boston and Cleveland but we also get Atlanta (twice), Orlando, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. Now I might be kidding myself about the Wizards being better than Atlanta but I have to think that team is going to be going through some growing pains just like the Wiz with a new starting point guard and arguably their best player in Al Horford bailing for Boston. I'm optimistic we can survive with a 6-6 record although there's a distinct possibility the Wizards will start out 0-3 with roadies against Atlanta and Memphis and the home opener against Toronto. I'm prepared for a rough first week and hoping it looks up from there.
2. Prepare To Booooooo!!!!!!
For the last decade or so, I've been booing LeBron James every time he touches the rock during a game at Verizon Center. It's a dying tradition that really needs reviving by much of the VC crowd. There have been a couple of others over the years: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Andray Blatche and Kwame Brown come to mind for completely different reasons, although last year I had a hard time making myself heard over all the Kobe "fans".
Last year, at his own urging, we added Kevin Durant to the list and KD's staying on my list this year, not for leading Wizards fans on (he didn't), but for telling the world that the crowd at Wizards home games sucks. I'm also adding Al Horford, who before this year was pretty much the most innocuous All-Star player in the league. This year, for choosing the Celtics over the Wizards and throwing some indirect shade at me and my few fellow die-hard fans, Al's on my list. I have November 9, January 24 and February 28 circled on my calendar for Durant and Horford. I'm going to have a lot more to say about this subject later this year in this blog. We have GOT to get Verizon Center louder, Wizards fans!
3. Cheering The Opponent
On the flip side of booing Kevin Durant, Al Horford and a number of other folks this year, I will actually be applauding some of our opponents for their past service to the Wizards organization. This year, Jared Dudley will likely get some polite very muted applause from me; I thought Duds was great in the first half of last season and I respect the smarts he brought to the court but he was here just one year and he seemed lost in the second half coming off the bench.
Getting slightly more love from me will be Garrett Temple, a guy the Wizards plucked from the D-League during the 2012-2013 season and who ended up staying for three more seasons. If there's a poster child for professionalism, hard work and smart play paying off, for me it's Garrett Temple. He managed to get a four year, $32 million dollar deal from the Sacramento Kings this offseason and I couldn't be happier for him. Well, except the fact that he's playing for the Kings.
But the guy I'm handing out a standing O to when he returns to Washington this year is Nenê. If this Washington Wizards team as it's composed right now ever becomes anything significant (like more than back to back second round playoff appearances), Nenê was the guy who started it all for me. He was the first real professional basketball player in the locker room to teach our young guys about what it means to play and compete respectably in this league. Nenê was acquired at the trade deadline in 2012 and instantly the culture of the team started to turn. Know who was in our starting lineup the game before the trade deadline? John Wall, Jordan Crawford (no longer in the NBA), Chris Singleton (no longer in the NBA), Trevor Booker and JaVale McGee (barely still in the NBA). On the bench? Nick Young, Andray Blatche and Jan Vesely. Nenê gave this franchise credibility. My applause might last a bit longer than the typical returning Wizard. November 7 by the way.
Each of these three guys get one appearance in D.C. this year so I'll make sure I'm there for each one. There are a couple of other first time ex-Wizards out there. I would have considered adding Marcus Thornton to this list but in the most puzzling off-season move, the Wizards re-signed him. Interested to see how that's going to work out. I'm thinking mid-season release if his shot's not falling because he's for sure not playing any D.
4. Surprise MLK Day Game
I expected no home game for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday this season. After all, it's presidential inauguration year in D.C. in 2017 and that seems to always mean that the Wizards are visitors in some other city for this Monday matinee game. But not this year. I guess someone finally figured out it's logistically possible to host a basketball game at Verizon Center and swear in a new president on the same week. I mean, why not, right? It's not like they are going to inaugurate Hillary at Verizon Center.
This game is special to me. It gets me out of work for a half day for a grilled cheese, some hoops and some pool before a little nosh at Rock Bottom Brewery and an early bed. It also makes me think about the fact that racial inequality still exists in this country in astonishing ways. Yes, I think of that and not that things are better than they were in the mid-twentieth century. We still have a ways to go here, people.
This year the Wizards are hosting the Portland Trail Blazer on January 16, the same team they got trounced by in the MLK Day game last year. I do not have a good feeling about this one, although the effort has to be better than it was earlier this year. The biggest decision for me will likely be what to do for dinner. There's no Rock Bottom this year since they are renovating the Ballston Mall and the whole place is shut down. And I didn't think that mall could get any more depressing. Shows you what I know...
5. Late Winter / Spring West Coast Swings
Every year it seems the Wizards end up starting on the road for a couple of games (that's true this year, it will again be game three before the Wiz play at Verizon Center) then build up a surplus of home slates before heading out on the road for a couple of brutal west coast swings. And frequently these road trips kill any sort of grand designs on playoff positioning (or even qualifying at all).
This season is no exception. There's a difficult four game, six night road trip in late March and early April to Los Angeles, Utah and Golden State. The only relief the Wizards get here is that they get to play the two L.A. teams back to back which is a change from prior years that had them heading to Los Angeles on two separate occasions.
But the road trip to watch starts March 7 in Phoenix. Four nights and three games later the Wizards will have stopped in Denver, Sacramento and Portland. And if all that wasn't enough, the NBA is making them spend an evening in Minnesota on the way back to D.C. for a fifth game. Seven days, five road games. Sure, four of these games are not against the best of the best in the NBA and I'm glad Portland is on the back end, but if there's a critical stretch in the season, this might be it.
6. Three, Not Four
Four games against each of the other teams in the Southeast Division? Check. Every year. Two games agains each team in the Western Conference? Check. Every year. That leaves 10 remaining teams and just 36 games, meaning four games against six of those teams and just three against the other four. And those extra games can make or break a season. Land a fourth game against the Knicks, 76ers, Nets and Bucks as opposed to the Cavaliers, Celtics, Raptors and Hawks and you could be looking at a two, three or four game swing in your win-loss record at the end of the season.
So what's in store this year? Well we got Cleveland (twice at home) and Toronto just three times but we also got Philly three times. Not too bad. We only have to play the far and away best two teams last year in the conference just three times. The fourth? Detroit, who showed they are up and coming. Look I'd rather have Boston three times but I'm OK with this draw. I feel there could be a game or two swing out of this. Thanks, NBA, for the schedule.
7. Road Trip! Or Trips!!
The thing I love the most about the NBA Schedule release date is checking out which cities I can visit for road games to continue my quest to see the Wizards play in all the current NBA arenas. Last year it was Los Angeles and New Orleans; the year before it was Miami and Toronto. On the top of my wish list this year? Sacramento, followed by Memphis, Denver and Houston and probably Charlotte. I need some diversity out west and if I make it to a Hornets-Wizards roadie, I'll have seen the Wiz play in all five Southeast Division arenas.
So what does this year's schedule hold? Well maybe not everything I want, certainly not Houston on a Monday. Saturday is the ideal day to travel to road games because it's actually possible to make the trip without taking time off of work. The only Saturday games in cities I haven't watched the Wizards play during the coming season are in Detroit (OK, so not really; it's really Auburn Hills), Portland, Charlotte and Cleveland. Other intriguing possibilities are Friday night games in San Antonio, Sacramento and Utah. Maybe I'll wait until the D-League schedule gets released before settling on a game or two. Who's coming with?
Now, all we have to do is wait. Like 11 weeks. Sounds reasonable, right? I mean that's only like 20% of a year. At least now I know. I've made my first pass through all this stuff tonight. now it's time for some real studying. Can't wait for October 27! Let's go Wizards!!!