At the close of Tuesday morning's shootaround, 15-year veteran Al Harrington addressed the Washington Wizards and made them aware of the opportunity that lies ahead.
"One game away from our goal," said Harrington. "We got eight games, we just need one win."
That win, which could come Wednesday night against the Boston Celtics at Verizon Center, would clinch the Wizards' first playoff berth in six years.
The Wizards already have seen one opportunity slip away, with Monday's loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, and the New York Knicks haven't helped by winning their last two when a loss would have put Washington in the playoffs. But the Wizards would rather control their own destiny.
"For us to be able to do it ourselves, to be able to a clinch a spot without having to rely on other team is a big accomplishment for us," said guard Bradley Beal. "Our biggest goal was to make it to the playoffs, and we have the opportunity in front of us and we just have to go grab it."
With just one more victory, the dark cloud that has overshadowed the growth and progression of this team can be overlooked. Once the franchise is able to return to its winning ways, defining progress as a .500 record or clinching a playoff berth will soon disappear.
"It's a process," said Harrington. "We're taking a step from being a horrible team, to being a mediocre team, to being a playoff team — and we can grow from there."
Every team wants to close the season on a high note, with Washington being no exception. The Wizards seek not only to win one game and make it in to the playoffs, rather string together several wins in order to enter the postseason with momentum.
"You don't want to look at is as just one game and you're in the playoffs," said guard Andre Miller. "You still want to position yourself, so I look at it as were trying to win every game going into the playoffs and trying to gain some confidence."
Washington is currently locked in to the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference, which would currently match the Wizards against the Toronto Raptors in the first round.
While Washington's preseason goal was to make the playoffs, the team now will try and make some noise come late April. However, in order for the team to make a run, it will have to play together and share the basketball.
"When you have five, six, seven guys in double figures — whether it's points or shot attempts — our record is pretty good," said coach Randy Wittman. "That's the way we have to play."
Although playing together is a significant factor in the team's success, in order to take the next step and begin to close out games Washington needs to develop its killer instinct. It can't expect much success in the playoffs if it blows 16-point leads in the second half, as was the case Monday in Charlotte.
That showing prompted a blog post Tuesday by owner Ted Leonsis with the headline "We didn't deserve to win or to clinch last night" and went on to chastise the team's "sloppy" performance.
"I would rather go through it now than go through it in the playoffs," Beal said of the collapse against the Bobcats. "Try and get it out of our system in the regular season, so that way moving forward we won't have to deal with it. If we have the lead in a late-game situation and have the opportunity to close it out, we have to do so."
With eight games remaining in the regular season, the time for complacency and relaxation is quickly coming to a halt. Young players, like Beal and John Wall, have yet to experience the pressure and precision that playoff basketball brings. But everyone is looking forward to the opportunity.
"It's about getting there," said Harrington. "Once you get there you can grow and move on from there."
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.