Jordan Crawford was greeted with skepticism a few weeks ago when he predicted the Wizards would win 20 games this year. The team was stuck on 12 wins and needed to go 8-5 in their final 13 games to pull it off.
By the time the Wizards closed out the season Thursday night at Verizon Center against the Miami Heat, they had finished the 2011-12 season with a record of 20-46 and a six-game winning streak.
“This was a real satisfying way to come down the stretch for this team,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “To win six games in a row and play the way we did, I thought this stretch at the end of the year was the best stretch that we played as a team together.
“With Nene being able to come back at the end, I thought that was really huge for the future of these guys in moving forward.”
The Heat barely bothered to show up for the game. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade did make the trip, but only to participate in the Thursday morning shootaround as they get ready for the playoffs. None played in the game, which the Wizards had well in hand by the end of the first half, winning 104-70.
Against the Heat’s back-up players, the Wizards played well, especially Wall, who dished out 12 assists and scored seven points, and Kevin Seraphin (15 points), who has been in the starting lineup since Nene (15 points) missed 10 games with left foot plantar fasciitis, and began coming off the bench when he returned. Mo Evans led all scorers with 18.
“I’m not trying to prove anything at this stage of my career,” Evans said. “I’m just trying to come here and remain professional and help out these guys in this locker room. I played a huge role in the locker room, and I feel like this is a year when I made a the most impact on a team in any year I played.”
It will be an offseason of transition for the Wizards, who will finish with the second-worst record in the league in front of the Charlotte Bobcats (7-59). The addition of Nene to the roster, along with trading Nick Young and JaVale McGee, signaled a change in direction for a team that is still in rebuilding mode.
Team president Ernie Grunfeld, who was just given a contract extension on Monday expected to take him through the 2013-14 season, was quick to point out at the time of the trade that the plan to develop the young players is still intact. But the fact is, McGee and Young were once expected to be a part of that future. Ultimately, neither player displayed the type of long-term maturity and focus that made them attractive building blocks for the future.
“We didn’t start the year off with the same group of guys we finished the season with,” Wall said. “It would be great to have a lot of these guys back. They all contributed, we all know how each other plays. We have motivation to get better this summer, and hopefully see these guys in training camp and keep building on it.”
Additional question marks remain for this team, which will be in the NBA lottery for the fourth consecutive year and can finish no worse than the fifth spot in the NBA Draft, held on June 28. They have a 19.9 percent chance at the No. 1 pick, while the Bobcats have the best chance, 25 percent.
In addition to making the right draft choices, the Wizards will need to make adjustments to their current roster, including a decision about the future of Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis. Both players are considered potential amnesty candidates, with the oft-injured Lewis, 32, hoping to finish his career with a contender, and Blatche becoming the poster child for the frustrations of the fans.
Blatche missed 22 games this season with a calf injury and conditioning issues, and spoke before the game about the disappointment of being unable to play, and play well, after hoping for a chance at a playoff run this year.
Decisions will also need to be made about the future of Wittman and the coaching staff. The players have responded well to Wittman’s no-nonsense approach, but ultimately, owner Ted Leonsis will need to gauge, and rather quickly, just how long the fans will continue to be patient if the rebuilding takes much longer.
“I fully endorse Randy,” Evans said. “It wasn’t a smooth transition, but once we got out lineup in place, we contended. We’re a much better team.”
“I like coach Wittman. It would be nice to have him back.”