It's not a new season, but in a way, it kind of feels like it."
A.J. Price is right. The Washington Wizards are not 1-0 after defeating the Atlanta Hawks, 93-83, on Saturday night. They are 6-28, riding a modest two-game winning streak that doesn't really count as one because, as Randy Wittman said,it hasn't reached three games. The Wizards can't quit their NBA 2k13 franchise mode and just start over. They have to live with their awful start.
A.J. Price is also right. The Wizards are whole, or at least close to it, for the first time all season. John Wall starred in his 22 minutes. Nene's minutes limit is soon to be a thing of the past. Trevor Ariza and even Price himself are useful cogs that are healthy again. Trevor Booker is close to being himself. Save for Jordan Crawford, who keeps nursing a bum ankle, and Cartier Martin, who was curiously mentioned by more players as a key loss than Crawford, the Wizards have the team they always envisioned.
And now that they do, there's really no other way for the players to think. They witnessed Wall dazzle the home fans with 14 points in 21 minutes, including three zips to the basket for layups to seal the deal. They see the names that aren't on the shelf anymore. What better way to play out the string than to forget the misfortune that led to them playing out the string never happened?
"Due to injuries and everything else we've been through, we haven't had a fair shake or a fair opportunity to do what we can do as a team," Price said.
Using Price's words, no injury was more unfair than Wall's. In many ways, Wall's outstanding debut was a cruel reminder of what the Wizards missed. The pace that Wittman has begged his team to play at all season was suddenly achieved with Wall's presence. Shooters that looked ordinary for a while were able to get clean looks. Most importantly, when the game came down to the wire, the Wizards had a closer that put things away.
Wall played just 21 minutes, but it was clear several people felt Wall's success was a sign of things to come.
"The game is different now," Wittman said. "The game is going to be different for how we create shots and get out to get shots."
This Wizards team was build for Wall to be the "maestro," as Martell Webster put it. Big-picture, Wall is obviously the leader, but he's even more essential once you get into the nitty-gritty. With Wall, the philosophy was easy to understand. The guards and wings would pressure the ball, the bigs would rebound and everyone would jet. Wall would be the catalyst, and Beal and another wing would fill the break and spot up for three-pointers.
But without Wall, the ball pressure wasn't perfect, there was nobody to force fast breaks and the perimeter shooting opportunities weren't there. The foundation was missing and the other blocks came crashing down. That's why it was so breathtaking for even Wall's teammates to see him consistently get into the lane and create open shot opportunities. Those have been few and far between this year.
"It's like he parted the Red Sea out there," Webster. "He told everybody to spread out, and that court is wide open. You could have a picnic in there."
The star and the head coach both tried to temper the optimism. The head coach pointed out that they still needed to be careful with the star's minutes, while the star talked in vague generalities about getting better each day. But you could read each side's true intentions from a mile away. How can you not get excited after a victory like that?
Whether a strong finish after a slow start is a good thing for this organization can be debated another day. All I can tell you is that the players sense that this is a new beginning. They aren't actually 1-0 this season, but it sure sounds better thinking of it that way than 6-28.