WASHINGTON | The Washington Wizards are almost halfway there, almost halfway to losing every one of their road games in this NBA season.
The 0-20 mark away from the Verizon Center has become the elephant in the room, overshadowing anything else the young, rebuilding team might accomplish. Even when No. 1 pick John Wall and Co. play well at home, the streak is still on their minds.
Beat the Celtics at home on Saturday night? Sure, that was by far their biggest win of the season to date, but the postgame celebration included tongue-in-cheek appeals to count it as a road win because the rare sellout crowd was so Celtics-friendly.
“This is not a road game? Not a road win for us? This don’t count?” guard Nick Young said. “Man, when they were doing the starting lineups, I thought we was getting booed and they were getting cheers.”
Coach Flip Saunders calls the skid the team’s “lightning bolt.” Forward Andray Blatche said it’s “passed embarrassment.” Wall has been referencing the need to avoid an 0-41 ignominy since early December, back when the road record was a mere 0-9.
And, of course, negative energy has a way of feeding on itself and expanding elsewhere. Other NBA teams are using the streak as motivation; none wants to be the first to fall at home to the lowly Wizards.
“We didn’t want them to get their first road win,” Milwaukee forward Drew Gooden said after Washington’s latest fruitless foray in an unwelcome city, a 100-87 loss to the Bucks on Wednesday. “We needed to win.”
Washington’s next chance for road redemption comes Monday with a visit to the New York Knicks, and it’s not too early to start calculating the Wizards‘ chances of moving into the league’s record books.
They still have some way to go. They NBA always seems to have an oversupply of truly awful teams, so the Wizards still need to lose two more just to move into a tie for third (with the 1949-50 Waterloo Hawks and the 1997-98 Denver Nuggets) for the all-time longest road losing streak to start a season. The record is 29, held by the 1992-93 Denver Nuggets, followed closely by the 0-28 start by the 1974-75 New Orleans Jazz.
The Wizards also lost their final road game of last season, so their overall streak stands at 21. That’s miles behind the record of 43 — more than a year’s worth — dropped in a row on the road by the Sacramento Kings over the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons.
It’s hardly a surprise to see the Wizards struggling away from their friendly confines. General manager Ernie Grunfeld began disassembling the team last season when he traded Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler. Another former All-Star, Gilbert Arenas, was shipped to Orlando last month.
The strategy is to build gradually around Wall, but the talent surrounding the 20-year-old point guard needs plenty of upgrade. The roster was so lacking in natural leadership at training camp that Wall was made a co-captain, a weighty obligation for a rookie finding his way.
If anything, Washington has done well to post a 13-9 record at home, with wins over Utah and Boston in the last week.
“It think it’s something young teams do,” Saunders said. “They have a comfort level, as far as at home. They get into a routine. Their routines always change a little bit as far as on the road.
“We said from the beginning the maturation of a young team, the first thing you’ve got to do is you’ve got to beat the bad teams at home and beat good teams at home. Then you beat bad teams on the road and you beat the good teams on the road.”
By that reckoning, the Wizards are halfway to becoming a decent team. The next step is to overcome the psychological hurdle that comes when a team loses 20 straight of anything.
“I hope it means a win on Monday,” he said, “and we get that monkey off our back.”