April 13, 2016

Perfect Attendance

With the clock expiring at the end of tonight's home game vs. the Atlanta Hawks, I concluded my 16th season as a Washington Wizards season ticket holder. It was in many ways the most disappointing and most agonizing of the 16 to sit through day by day, week by week and month by month. The weight of expectations and the apparent belief that everything would work out OK did this team in from the beginning to the end of the season. All you had to do to understand how the Wizards season would go was watch the second game of the season vs. the Milwaukee Bucks. The Wizards messed around all game with that team and finally luckily got hot and the end and pulled the game out. That didn't work every game but for sure we messed around a lot this season.

It is my stated goal at the beginning of each year to make it to all 41 home games. Inevitably, something gets in the way. Maybe it's a personal commitment, an illness, a work trip or something like Christmas, but most years, I don't achieve my goal. I have a lot of 38, 39 or 40 game seasons on my resume. In fact prior to this season, I had only made it to all the regular season home games once: during the 19 win 2008-2009 season. But when I stepped through the doors at Verizon Center on Wednesday night, this season became the second.

I consider this quite an accomplishment. Every night the Wizards played at home from October 31, 2015 to April 13, 2016 I was there rooting as hard as I could for my team. I never rooted for an opponent or a player on the opposing team. Wizards all the way, baby! That's what it's all about. And as if that weren't enough, I even made it to all three preseason games and two road games in New Orleans and Los Angeles.

There were some highs and a lot of lows this season at home. As a way of memorializing this terrible season, here's how I feel about all 41 of our regular season home games, ranked in order from best to worst.

1: Wins Against LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (February 28): Yes, I know LeBron sat this one out but any victory against a Cleveland team with LeBron on the roster has to go down as the best win of the season on an emotional, visceral level. This game ended up being a 14 point win for the Wizards but no way was it that close. This thing was a beatdown. The lead swelled to as many as 29 in the fourth quarter. The best part of the game for me was that the Wizards at one stretch seemed to be going right at Kyrie Irving on every offensive possession. Whoever Kyrie was covering got the rock. Sure Kyrie got his 28 but he ended this game -22. I love it when a plan comes together.

No Metro? No problem. Beat the Bulls easily on March 16.
2-12: Wins That Showed What This Team Could Have Been

2. San Antonio Spurs (November 4): If there was a game that pointed to this franchise as a future world beater, it was this game against the Spurs. We played them tough and smart and answered every run. And Bradley Beal's last second dagger jumper after the fake was gorgeous. It showed exactly how good the Wizards and Beal could be. Unfortunately, it was the second home game and neither the Wizards nor Beal were really this good ever again this year. Total tease! I loved walking out of VC yelling "Go Spurs Go!" to all the San Antonio fans.

3. Miami Heat (January 20): The Wizards had some good wins and some bad losses against the Heat this year. This one was a good win. The home team won every quarter and ended up with a 106-87 win. We just beat them in every way.

4. Detroit Pistons (March 14): Morris Bowl II. With 3:19 to go in the game, the Wizards were up 42! The Wizards managed to handle the Pistons easily when they were fully healthy this year. Too bad they didn't treat the rest of their opponents that way.

5. Chicago Bulls (March 16): The day Metro died. If there's team in the Eastern Conference who is more disappointing than the Wizards, it would be the Chicago Bulls. This game showed why the Wizards were better than the Bulls this year. This 19 point win against a team we were fighting for position with was just what we needed as part of a five game winning streak. Unfortunately, we followed that streak up with games 37 and 40 on this list.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (December 23): In about the worst time for the Wizards on the injury front, the Grizzlies (who ended up being the NBA's most injured team this year) were pretty much fully healthy. The Wizards started Kelly Oubre, Jr. in this one. That's how bad it was. But the team responded and had the Grizz down 16 after three quarters. This one wasn't as close as the nine point win suggested.

7. Utah Jazz (February 18): Utah came into this game hot, having won seven of their previous eight. The Wizards won every quarter in this one behind a throwback starting lineup with Nenê at the four alongside Marcin Gortat. Nenê was especially effective against Utah's defensive stopper Rudy Gobert. Rudy should watch tape of this game as a tutorial to improve. If he doesn't, the rest of the league should watch it and do exactly what our real big man did.

8. Detroit Pistons (February 19): Morris Bowl I. The Wizards came out early and smacked Detroit in the mouth in the first quarter, outscoring them by 14. The Wiz then proceeded to win quarters two and three and extend the lead to 22 before taking the foot off the gas pedal a little. The ease with which we handled the Pistons with John Wall on the court was stunning considering they finished the season with a playoff berth.

9. New Orleans Pelicans (February 23): After inexplicably surrendering a boatload of made three point shots to Tyreke Evans in December in the Big Easy, the Wizards handled the Evans-less Pelicans in D.C. pretty easily. The third quarter was the difference in this game as they shut down the Pels. Anthony Davis was rendered especially ineffective by our bigs. Why we didn't do this in New Orleans is beyond me.

10. Milwaukee Bucks (November 17): The first blowout win of the season. This one felt good after the malaise of the season's first three weeks. We rode this win to a season high two games above .500 the following Saturday and then never got back there. The Bucks were a playoff team last year so this looked like a good win. This season not so much...

11. Charlotte Hornets (December 19): At the beginning of the fourth quarter on November 25 in Charlotte, the Wizards were beating the Hornets 81-74. 34 points later, the Wizards had lost the game by 14 in one of the worst displays of offensive futility I've ever seen the Wizards have (and there have been a lot over the years). This game on December 19 was not that game. The Wizards came out strong and beat a team that over this season we should have swept.

12. Philadelphia 76ers (February 5): The Sixers by all accounts are terrible. "The Process" isn't working. Despite that, Philadelphia won 10 games this year, thankfully none against the Wizards. This one was fairly easy. The home team got up 60-47 at the half up then extended the lead to 23. The Sixers were never closer than nine in the second half. Good stuff!

13-20: Scraping By

13. Brooklyn Nets (April 6): You could talk me into putting this game in the previous category if you tried a little bit. The Wizards were without John Wall and eventually wore the Nets down, killing them in the second half after a close and lackluster first half. Considering the Nets were missing Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, maybe I have it in the right spot. The end was coming soon after this one. We just knew it.

14. Orlando (November 14): The Wizards swept the Orlando Magic 4-0 this season. Along with Philadelphia, they were the only franchise the Wizards blanked in four games. It might have been different. The Wizards never really seemed like they convincingly beat the Magic. This nine point win was close through three. It took the Wiz outscoring Orlando by 6 in the fourth to put them away.

15. Sacramento Kings (December 21): This pre-Christmas battle with the dysfunctional Kings was a nip and tuck affair. The game was tied through three until the Wizards turned it on in the final quarter and put them away by 14. Key stat here was the Wiz shutting down the Kings' top three players: Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay shot a combined 15 of 46. Good job on those guys, especially DMC who had some big games this year.

16. Orlando Magic (January 1): Happy New Year! Another slugfest with the Magic. Tied after three. Wizards ended up winning by 12. See 14 above for more thoughts.

17. Milwaukee Bucks (January 13): After beating the Bucks by a ton in November, this one was a lot closer. The five point margin came courtesy of the Wizards outscoring the Bucks by eight in the fourth quarter.

18. New York Knicks (March 19): This one looked dicey for a while. The Wizards played so poorly in the first half that it looked like we might actually drop two to the Knicks at home this season. And we were not overwhelmed by Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. It was instead Langston Galloway, Derrick Williams and Aaron Afflalo doing all the damage in the first. The Knicks fans right behind us and around us seemed very happy with their ten point halftime lead. The 20 point swing in the third quieted those guys down and they were gone before the end of the game.

19. Phoenix Suns (December 4): The Wizards didn't really particularly want to win this game against the generally awful Phoenix Suns. They tried and tried to make this an L but the Suns wouldn't let them. For a while it seemed like it was a battle to see who could lose most. This game featured one of the most bizarre delay of game technical fouls I've ever seen when Markieff Morris (then with the Suns) kept switching sides of the lane during a foul shot earning the team its second delay of game call. Of course, the Wizards missed the T. Then they traded for Morris, which has actually worked out pretty well so far.

20. Philadelphia 76ers (February 29): Maybe it was the leap day that did it here but this was by far the least impressive home win of the season, which is saying something. The Wizards made the Sixers look more than competitive in this one for some reason, giving up 34 in the third quarter and squandering their 12 point halftime lead plus a few more to trail by eight with seven gone in the second half. After a regrouping and a chorus of boos from the crowd (including me) they pulled it together and finished off Philly. Just sloppy play. 

21-23: Moral Victories

21. Golden State Warriors (February 3): While there are no true moral victories in the NBA in my opinion, the Wizards on paper had no business competing with this Golden State Warriors team when they visited town in early February. But if we hadn't conceded a fifteen point lead by the end of the first quarter (it was actually a one point game in the third), we might have made this even closer than the eventual 13 point loss. John Wall was incredible in this game, scoring 41 and shooting an unconscionable 68% from the field. The problem was nobody else really followed his lead. Just like the majority of the season.

22. Atlanta Hawks (April 13): No Wall. No Beal. No Morris. No Gortat. Wizards win. And the Hawks were fighting for playoff positioning. If we played like this all year, we'd be in the playoffs for sure. But...game over=season over.

23. Charlotte Hornets (April 10): The game after the Wizards were eliminated from the playoffs. After this one, Hornets forward Nicolas Batum said the Wizards should be a playoff team. Yeah, well, about that... Maybe Batum would like to play in D.C. next year? I'd take him.

Bubble soccer at halftime of the only close game against the Celtics on January 16. Still ended up losing.
24-28: Could Have Gone Either Way

24. Toronto (November 28): Considering where Toronto ended up this season (second in the East), this is not a bad loss at all. But it happened in excruciating fashion. John Wall missed two free throws with four seconds to go and then Cory Joseph proceeded to hit the game winning three right in front of me as time expired.

25. Boston Celtics (January 16): This was by far the best loss to the Celtics this year, meaning we didn't lost by 20, 33 or 25 points. But the inexcusable lapse on the defensive end to allow Jae Crowder to put back a miss was a killer. The pain of this loss was numbed by free beer in a suite for us on this night. Free beer tends to numb stuff.

26. Toronto Raptors (January 8): The Wizards continued to play Toronto tough in their second trip to Verizon Center. At least in the first half. But the third quarter turned a tied game at halftime into a 12 point Wizards deficit by the end of that period. This thing ended in a nine point loss.

27. Houston Rockets (December 9): The Rockets seem to have a knack of beating the Wizards at home. And this game was no exception. We were actually ahead after three but managed to lose the final period by seven en route to a six point loss. I hate James Harden. Just saying. And I don't think hate is too strong a word here.

28. Los Angeles Clippers (December 28): I came back early from Christmas with the fam for this one. The Wizards lost the first quarter by 14 and never recovered. Should have stayed with my parents.

29-32: Too Many Three Pointers Allowed

29. Cleveland Cavaliers (January 6): This game was really a tale of two halves. The Cavaliers won the first half; the Wizards won the second half. Unfortunately, the Cavs won their half by more than the Wizards won theirs. J.R. Smith was 5 of 10 from downtown; LeBron James was 4 of 9. That and Kyrie Irving getting 32 killed us this day.

30. Portland Trail Blazers (January 18): This was perhaps the worst MLK Day game I have ever seen the Wizards play. C.J. McCollum went 6 of 10 from long distance. The Wizards lost by 10. It didn't seem that close.

31. Dallas (December 6): Wesley Matthews shot 10 of 17 from beyond the arc. 10 of 17!!!! Dallas 116, Wizards 104.

32. Indiana (November 24): Paul George sank 7 of 8 from three point land; C.J. Miles went 8 of 9. That's 15 of 17 from those two guys!!!! No fight from the Wizards whatsoever in this 17 point loss.

Nine days later the Celtics came back to town and it was ugly, ugly, ugly!
33-41: Just Plain Bad Losses

33. Indiana Pacers (March 5): Yep, I get that this was a one point loss. Surely, that's not a bad loss you are thinking. It was. It perhaps should be lower. The Wizards had won all five of their games at home following the All-Star break. Finally it looked as if we were getting serious about defending the home court. And Indiana, a team we could potentially be trying to catch came in to the building and had themselves down by three with 2:19 to play. A miss, a turnover and two missed free throws later and the Wizards had themselves a one point loss. Killer.

34. New York Knicks (October 31): Home opener. Wizards already with a 2-0 record off wins in Orlando and Milwaukee to start the season. The Knicks coming off their worst season in franchise history. You can guess the rest. The Knicks outscored the Wizards by 10 in the fourth and the losing started.

35. Oklahoma City Thunder (November 10): There's certainly no shame in losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. This game is not on this portion of the list because of the loss but because of the WAY they lost. Three things stick out here: (1) Kevin Durant didn't play much after our home crowd booed him, (2) nobody stood up to Russell Westbrook; Westbrook can be a bully on his worst days and the Wizards let him be one; and (3) they put us away early, outscoring us by 14 then 4 then 8 in the first three quarters. This was the first home game I left really early this season. It wasn't the last.

36. Miami Heat (January 3): Seven points in the second quarter and just 75 for the whole game. This was against a Miami team that we had dominated in south Florida about four weeks before this. Miami's a good team. We should have come out like we meant it in this one.

37. Atlanta Hawks (March 23): This is another loss in the spirit of the Pacers loss at number 33 above. Except that this one was a 21 point thrashing at the hands of a team that the Wizards had beaten just two days earlier in Atlanta. I should have realized it was over at this point. Just like the Thunder game, I split early. The only consolation here was I was home early on a school night.

38. Denver Nuggets (January 28): No way should the Wizards have ever lost this game at home to the Nuggets. It ended up as a three point loss only because the Wizards outscored Denver by eight in the fourth. This loss infuriated me. 

39. Boston Celtics (January 25): The Celtics killed the Wizards this year. They are smart, well-coached and have a superstar in Isaiah Thomas who has more desire and drive in his little finger than most guys who have suited up for the Wizards this year. The worst part of this 25 point beatdown was it wasn't Thomas who killed us; it was the Cs bench. Marcus Smart, Evan Turner and Kelly Olynyk were all +20 or more while on the court in this one.

40. Minnesota Timberwolves (March 25): Do I have to even write about this game? Yes, there were missed calls by the referees during the last two minutes of regulation that went against the Wizards and they missed some in overtime too. I'll remember this game as the one Bradley Beal scored 16 in the first half and ZERO in the second. All we needed was one made shot, Brad, and we wouldn't have had to play either overtime. Why won't our shooting guard shoot?

41. Los Angeles Lakers (December 2): Yep, the T-Wolves loss was terrible, especially because we were supposedly trying to make the playoffs. But this one was just the worst loss in the worst season I have been a season ticket holder. This game came the day after the Lakers had lost to the 0-18 Philadelphia 76ers. It was a classic trap game and sure enough, the Wizards let themselves get trapped. I'm sure most people chalk this loss up to a vintage Kobe Bryant performance with his 31 points. But that wasn't the story. Kobe was -5 in his time on the court. The real loss came to Brandon Bass, Larry Nance, Jr., and Metta World Peace who were a staggering +39 combined. This was just a lazy effort. Nothing more. And the Wizards got nothing from this game.

The Wizards missed the playoffs by three games this year. I'm not saying I expect my team to win every game against every inferior opponent at home, but a different effort in the Lakers, T-Wolves, Nuggets and the March 5 Pacers game plus a better showing in a couple of bad road losses (Chicago, Miami, Denver, Utah...take your pick really) might have made this season a lot happier. I'm taking a couple of weeks off from the NBA and this blog while I stew about this season but I'll have plenty more to say about it in May and beyond.

In the meantime, let's go whoever's playing the Cleveland Cavaliers!!!

April 11, 2016

The Pixel-And-Roll Show

For those three or four people who read this blog but either don't follow me on Twitter or are not friends with me on Facebook, I had the opportunity last week to join Adam McGinnis of Truth About It on his regular podcast, The Pixel-And-Roll Show. Download it here and beware the 77 minute length.

This was a great opportunity for me and Adam to look back on the 2015-2016 Wizards season, lament what was and speculate on the future. We also got into my thoughts on Randy Wittman, Ernie Grunfeld, traveling to games, the state of the team's relationship with season ticket holders and a few more topics.

Yes, there are too many "so"s and "you know"s from me in my dialog. First time jitters I guess. I'll try to clean it up in the future if I ever get the chance again.

Thanks once again to Adam for asking me to participate. Follow Adam on Twitter at @adammcginnis.

April 10, 2016

Jerry, Kareem, Magic & Chick

Last weekend I was in Los Angeles for a quick trip out of town centered around my beloved but beleaguered Washington Wizards taking on the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center in downtown L.A. Given the way this season has gone, the Wizards lost of course but that's not what I'm writing about now.

On the north side of Staples Center, just between the building and Chick Hearn Court (the road immediately to the north), there's a small plaza (called Star Plaza) which allows people to gather while waiting to enter the building. It's a great idea from a crowd control and safety standpoint: it allows folks to stand off the street before the game while also keeping the sidewalks clear and it lets those same people get out of the building at the end of a game or event without having to step right into traffic.

In Star Plaza there are six statues celebrating the heroes of the past of the building's primary tenants, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings, and another of Oscar De La Hoya, the L.A. born boxer who over his career held title belts in six different weight classes, none of which (ironically) were won at Staples Center. Statues of Clippers players are conspicuously absent but it's really not surprising: nobody has ever done anything in a Clips uniform which is statue-worthy. For the majority of their 45 year history, the team has done almost nothing worth celebrating. Sure there have been two division titles (both in the last four years) but they've never made it beyond the second round of the playoffs. Never!

When Doc Rivers became head coach and President of Basketball Operations for the Clippers, he was irked by the Lakers banners and graphics on display during Clippers home games. After all, he thought, people were coming to see the Clippers, not their more successful co-tenant at Staples, so why can't the building look like a Clippers home game with no trace of Lakers stuff around? Good question. And his thought worked. Enter the building during a Clips home game and you will indeed see no purple and gold hanging anywhere for people to see.

But they don't take down the statues outside the building during a Clippers home game. So I'm going to do something that would likely irk Doc Rivers if he ever read this little blog and that's pay some attention to the Lakers, even though I was there to see the Clippers. Sort of. They really just happened to be playing my team that day.

By all reckoning, the Los Angeles Lakers are true NBA royalty. They are one of the original 11 teams which started in the league in 1946 (albeit in Minneapolis) and they have won more NBA titles (16) than any other team except for the Boston Celtics (who have won 17). They have far and away the most NBA Finals appearances of any team, with 15 losses to go with their 16 titles, a combined 31 Finals appearances. They have also been remarkably consistent, winning titles in every decade the NBA has existed except for two: the 1960s and the 1990s. Admittedly, four of their 16 titles came while the team was in Minneapolis.

It should come as no surprise then that some of the NBA's best players ever have starred with the Lakers over their 31 Finals appearances. All told, the Lakers have retired nine numbers. Nobody will ever wear 13, 22, 25, 32, 33, 34, 42, 44 or 52 for that franchise ever again, unless someone pulls a Bruce Bowen and lets the team un-retire his number. The Lakers decided to make three of those retired jerseys into statues. Here's who you will find outside of Staples if you visit.

Jerry West
1960-1974, NBA Champion 1972, Number 44

Of all the players in the history of the Lakers, Jerry West is perhaps the most tragic. He was drafted by the Lakers in 1960, just one season removed from their last championship in Minneapolis. In West's second season, the Lakers (now in Los Angeles) were back in the NBA Finals facing the Boston Celtics. The Lakers lost to the Cs, as they would the next five times they made the Finals with West on their roster. When they finally made the Finals facing someone other than the Celtics in 1970, they lost to the New York Knicks. Ten seasons in the NBA with seven Finals appearances and no ring. Although he did win NBA Finals MVP in a losing effort in 1969.

After a year away from the Finals in 1971, West's time would finally come, again versus the New York Knicks, a 4-2 victory to secure the 1972 NBA Championship. It was West's first and only title; he would lose his only other shot in 1973 (again to the Knicks).

West hasn't done so bad for himself following his playing days. He stayed on with the Lakers after he retired in the front office and secured six additional titles with the club as an executive. He also managed to grab another ring last year as general manager of the Golden State Warriors in addition to making the NBA's 50th Anniversary Team and being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The NBA also designed their logo based on his silhouette. Not bad at all.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
1975-1989, NBA Champion 1971*, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988, Number 33

The season following Jerry West's retirement, the Lakers missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1959-1960 season, the year before West's rookie year. But the Lakers were in luck. The Milwaukee Bucks' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who in his first six seasons in Milwaukee had walked off with three MVP awards and the 1971 NBA Championship, was sick of life in the midwest and demanded the Bucks trade him to either the New York Knicks or the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers won out.

Kareem turned out to not be an instant cure all for the Lakers. In his first season in L.A., the team failed to make the playoffs for the second straight year. But Kareem turned out to be remarkably durable over his career and anchored the Lakers' starting lineup for the next 15 years, winning five titles in Los Angeles in addition to doubling the number of MVP awards in his trophy case.

Kareem is shown in statue form outside Staples executing his famous and pretty much impossible sky hook shot. He retired in 1989 as the NBA's all-time leading scorer, a mark he holds to this day. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.

*With the Milwaukee Bucks.

Earvin "Magic" Johnson
1979-1991, 1995-1996, NBA Champion 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988, Number 32

Despite having one of the premier players in the game in the late 1970s in Kareem, the Lakers could not get back to the NBA Finals in his first four seasons in Los Angeles. That changed in the 1979-1980 season when the team drafted Earvin Johnson first overall in the 1979 NBA Draft. Showtime was born.

In his first ten years in the league, Magic led the Lakers to the NBA Finals eight times, taking home the trophy in five of those seasons, including his rookie year when he sealed the deal by scoring 42 points playing center in the deciding game against the Philadelphia 76ers. He also won two MVP trophies during that span and added a third during he 1989-1990 season when the Lakers fell short of the Finals. His career was cut short when it was discovered he had contracted the HIV virus and was forced to retire.

I'm not sure what the deal with Magic's statue outside Staples is. He seems to be bursting out of the black pyramid below his feet as if he is being spit out of some sort of abstract volcano. Of all the Lakers statues outside the building, Magic is less strictly representational and more cartoon-hero like. I think I like the realism better.

Francis "Chick" Hearn

Ever heard the term "no harm, no foul"? What about "garbage time"? How about "triple double"? "Air ball"? "Slam dunk"? Well if it wasn't for Chick Hearn, you might never have heard any of these.

Chick Hearn was a true pioneer for NBA broadcasters, serving as the Lakers primary play-by-play voice from the time the team relocated to Los Angeles in 1960 until he left the air in December 2001. That's more than 41 years doing the same job night in and night out. Starting on November 20, 1965, Chick broadcast 3,338 consecutive Laker games. I know this was his job but think about how much dedication and luck plays into that streak. I've been a Wizards season ticket holder for almost 16 years now and I've only made it to every home game one of those seasons. Something always gets in the way whether it's sickness or something in life. Showing up for 35 or so consecutive years at home and on the road is super impressive.

Chick was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster in 2003. He was the first to receive such an honor. Chick's statue in Star Plaza features a guest chair, which I had to sit in and have my picture taken. From the picture at the top of this post, he's clearly much larger than life-size in his statue form.

The Lakers statues in Star Plaza represent six of the 11 championships the team has won in its time in Los Angeles. Three of the remaining five will get some representation next year, when the team apparently will unveil a likeness of Shaquille O'Neal. I expect the final two will be picked up by a Kobe Bryant statue relatively soon thereafter.

The Lakers aren't the only team to immortalize it's past legends outside their building in statue form. Michael Jordan can be found outside the United Center in Chicago, Dominique Wilkins has a spot in the shopping mall adjoining Philips Arena in Atlanta and Karl Malone and John Stockton have statues in Utah. While I'm not holding my breath for a bronze Wes Unseld likeness outside Verizon Center, I think this is a great way to connect current fans to the team's past successes. These things have to kill the Clippers who I feel are going to be waiting a while to put one of their own in Star Plaza.

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.