Thursday’s season finale for the Washington Wizards is a study of two teams going in opposite directions.
The rebuilding Wizards are playing for pride and are aiming for a second straight victory over the Miami Heat.
Win or lose, the Wizards (18-46 entering Wednesday) will own the second-worst record in the NBA, ahead of only the historically awful Charlotte Bobcats (7-57 entering Wednesday).
As for the Heat (46-19), they are locked into the No. 2 seed, and are resting their star players for a playoff run that begins just one day after the regular season ends. There’s even a chance that the Big Three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade don’t make the trip.
But Wizards coach Randy Wittman rarely worries about the opponents. His mantra since taking over for Flip Saunders in January hasn’t changed - it’s about us, not them.
“I’m proud of the fact that we’re competing,” Wittman said. “We’ve won games against quality opponents coming down the stretch here that are fighting for their lives in the playoffs. That means a lot.”
The Wizards do have a few recent wins they can be proud of. They are the only team that has defeated Chicago and Miami on their respective home courts, even though both teams played without their stars. The Wizards are also one of just three teams, along with the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers to have wins over the Bulls, Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s been a difficult year, no question, but one that I think that our guys have done the best through the circumstances,” Wittman said. “We’ve gone through a lot of injuries and a lot of roster changes and trades.”
In addition to replacing Saunders with Wittman, the Wizards also traded two players once thought to be cornerstones, center JaVale McGee and guard Nick Young. Ten-year veteran center Nene was brought in to add maturity, stability and a high basketball IQ.
Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis had injury-plagued seasons and will finish the season on the inactive list. At 32, Lewis doesn’t fit in the team’s plans, while the underachieving Blatche is the team’s biggest question mark heading into next season.
President Ernie Grunfeld has described this season as “Year 2 of a three-year rebuild.” The Wizards have extended Grunfeld through the 2013-14 season, making next year one of the most important for a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in four years.
Wittman’s future with the team remains uncertain, but it’s not something he’s worried about.
“If I knew what was going to happen in the future, I wouldn’t be standing here talking to you guys,” Wittman joked.
“Going through something like this season always makes you a better coach. You either have learned a good lesson, and know how to handle it differently, or you handled it pretty good, and you know what to do when it happens again.”