Fresh from a 27 point drubbing at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night, the Washington Wizards road does not get any easier. The Wizards will face the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, (47-18) who are in second place in the Eastern Conference behind the Boston Celtics, who have an identical 47-18 record, but are two games better in Conference wins.
Of the Wizards final 11 road opponents, only four are lottery teams – the Raptors, Clippers, Warriors and Cavaliers. The other seven – the Bulls, Blazers, Nuggets, Jazz, Hornets, Pacers and Celtics – are all in the playoffs, or fighting for a playoff spot.
The Wizards are a league-worst 1-29 on the road, and even the four lottery dwellers won’t be easy victories. If the Wizards manage to lose them all, they will tie with the 1990-91 Sacramento Kings for the worst road record in NBA history, 1-40.
Teams like Chicago are trying to finish strong and make a push for home court advantage in the playoffs, while teams like the Wizards are limping to the finish line, literally. The front court is decimated, with Josh Howard, Andray Blatche, Rashard Lewis and Cartier Martin all out for tonight’s game. Nick Young hobbled by a sore left knee. And coach Flip Saunders, while praising the effort of his rookies, is beginning to show signs of frustration with his veterans, even to the point of developing a callous on his lip from biting it.
“You try and let them play through some things, to try and hope that they get it. You can’t play losing basketball. You have to play within the things that you can do. If you don’t, then everyone starts to try crazy things. You know your point guard’s going to have some turnovers; he’s got the ball in his hands a lot. You can’t afford for your centers and forwards and those guys to have two, three, four turnovers in games. They don’t touch it enough,” Saunders said.
Saunders related the struggles he is seeing with this Wizards squad to his days in Minnesota coaching the Timberwolves.
“We had some times. I remember we went to San Antonio and they beat us by 46. We had some bad stretches. We went up to Utah and got beat by 38. As I said then, and tell [the players] now, you take notice from that. The thing was we had some veteran guys along with that. [Kevin] Garnett was a rookie, but he made progress, like I think some of our rookies are. I think our rookies have been more physical and competitive than some of the guys we’ve had back. That’s disappointing at times, because you wouldn’t expect that,” Saunders said.
But through it all, Saunders is trying to keep a stiff upper lip, callous and all.
“The good thing is we get to go tomorrow (Tuesday) and play Chicago in Chicago, who’s playing really good. So that’s the positive thing,” Saunders quipped.
“We’ll just have to get them up tomorrow (Tuesday) when we have our breakfast meeting. It’s a new day, and we’ll try to give them something to hang their hats on. But we know that the Bulls are going to be foaming at the mouth for us, to try to knock us out quickly. Our guys have to understand that there’s a lot at stake. I’m finding out a lot about guys. I’m finding out guys that really want it.”