At 0-12, the Washington Wizards were a national joke among NBA pundits. The studio analysts at Turner Sports, home of NBA TV, routinely compared the team to the Washington Generals, the regular foil for the Harlem Globetrotters.
They even took to playing the Globetrotters' theme music, "Sweet Georgia Brown," in the background of Wizards highlights..
While the Wizards' 84-82 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday didn't exactly vault them into playoff contention, they are no longer being the NBA's only winless team.
Wizards coach Randy Wittman, for one, shrugs off the mocking.
"That's going to happen," said Wittman, whose team now is on pace for six wins. "Listen, when you're 0-12, guys are going to make fun of you. That's our business. Nobody wants to be in that position, those guys don't want to be in that position, but that's the nature of the business."
Smiles, along with sighs of relief, were visible for the first time all season in the locker room after the game, along with the news that Thursday's practice was canceled in favor of a day off.
"It was a great feeling," said Trevor Ariza, who led the starting unit with 14 points on 6-of-9 from the floor. "We're happy we finally got a win, got that monkey off our backs, but we're not satisfied. We want to continue to win, so we have to try to do what we need to do."
The win didn't come easily. The Wizards blew a 15-point fourth quarter lead and survived a seven-minute scoring drought but gave their disgruntled fans something to get excited about as the game came to a close. The Verizon Center crowd came to their feet and cheered, sensing that a win was finally at hand.
"It was fun," said Emeka Okafor. "Everybody was on the edge of their seats. Everybody wanted it just as bad as we did. I'm very appreciative everybody else was all in."
Washington will be put to the test Friday when it faces New York (10-4) at Madison Square Garden. Their last regular-season was April 13 in New York, when the Knicks dismantled the Wizards 103-65.
"I think just getting that first victory, things will start to steamroll," Okafor said. "We've gotten close several times. I think now that we've actually won and whatever oppressive force has been keeping us from winning has been lifted, and it should become a little bit easier."
The oppressive force of which Okafor speaks could include the upcoming schedule. But with a tough slate of games coming up — including Miami, Atlanta and Golden State, teams with winning records — the road is about to get harder.
But, like Okafor, Bradley Beal isn't worried about the standings.
"We have faith every game that we are going win the game," the rookie shooting guard said. "There is no doubt in my mind. Nor do we go in thinking, 'OK we are about to lose, let's just compete.' No. We always have that mentality that we can win the game."
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