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!!!

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