Okay, now we’re talking! The Washington Wizards on Monday night as they pulled off the unthinkable by not just picking up a win, but doing so against the league’s best Oklahoma City Thunder to spoil DC native and NBA superstar Kevin Durant’s homecoming. By far it was easier to predict an Alabama beat down of Notre Dame than to see this one coming.
…Or was it?
Let’s remember that of the Wizards’ five wins this season, two have now come against the NBA’s upper echelon teams — the Heat and the Thunder. And around the same time last year the Wizards had also beaten the Thunder at the Verizon Center, showing that even in the depths of a troubled season they can still get it going for the big games.
Ah, who are we kidding — of course we’re surprised by this one. Surprised and encouraged. If ever there was a time for a big win, tonight was it. January can very much be the dog days of the NBA as teams limp towards the All-Star break. But the Wiz have been dealt a particularly rough schedule over the coming weeks, making this an ever crucial stretch that could separate a really bad season from one that sets new records in the history books.
Heading into Sunday, their next three games were against the Heat, Thunder and Hawks. Ouch. Then a seemingly winnable game against Orlando (source of their last win) before going to the west coast for five games. Regardless of the opponents, traveling cross country amidst a losing streak is always a dangerous recipe.
So had the Wiz not pulled out the W on Monday, who knows just how bad things could be by month’s end? Monday’s win is not the silver bullet for a magical turnaround. But it is something positive to work with. More encouraging than a mark in the win column is how they won it. The Wizards had built a double-digit lead only to see it dwindle in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter. Blowing a big lead late could normally crush a team mentally, particularly when coming at the hands of the league’s best team. But the Wizards proved resilient enough to hang in and execute big plays down the stretch including a game winning shot with just .4 ticks left on the clock.
Even had the Wizards lost, one could argue that the moral victory of playing the Thunder tight all game would be just as good as an actual win — a low bar for most, but you take what you can get when you’re 5-28. Instead, they have some momentum to build on heading into what should be a tough game against Atlanta. What’s more, it’s appearing increasingly likely that star guard John Wall could be back in action within the next week or two.
You also have to hand it to Wizards nation. Despite the rough ride so far this season, the Verizon Center comes to life for each home game. It was more so the case on Monday night for the fans who flocked to see the prodigal son Kevin Durant return to play in his hometown. With a noticeable portion of the crowd cheering on each Durant bucket, it was obvious that no matter the result, Monday was a win-win for DC natives. The city may have the worst team in the league record-wise, but it can also boast to raising and training one of the game’s best.