When I walk into the Verizon Center tonight, I expect to see my own digital words shoved in my face.
It was a week and a half ago that Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post asked me and four other avid Wizards watchers why there seemed to be a lack of "buzz" surrounding the team. In my answer, I suggested the following:
I hope I'm wrong about this, but I don't think they sell out [first-round] home games unless they play Miami ... and then the building will be overrun by Heat fans.
Those words are indeed totally wrong, which makes me very happy. Whether it's because of the winning or an untapped excitement that always existed without coming to the surface, there's plenty of "buzz." We've now reached the point where Ted Leonsis is calling for less buzz, lest we get overconfident. (And Ted, if you're reading, feel free to shove those words in my face in person. I'll happily take it).
Satchel is right: this series is not over. Only four teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit in a seven-game series after losing the first two at home, but four is more than zero. Both of Washington's wins in Chicago were tight games that could have gone either way if a possession or two ended differently. How would we feel if the Wizards had instead lost two close games instead of pulling them out? It's a horrible cliche to say this, but you know the Bulls will not go down without leaving every last drop of energy on the floor.
That said, I think an important point does need to be made. The Wizards were indeed a poor home team all year, posting the same 22-19 record in the Verizon Center as they did away from it. On the surface, it looks like the home-court advantage means little to this team.
But the Wizards did not go 22-19 at home with the kind of crowd we're going to see on Friday night. They went 22-19 at home in front of lethargic home-team fans waiting for the other shoe to drop, loud visiting fans during key matchups and many empty seats. The only four sellouts they had this year were against big-ticket clubs Oklahoma City, Brooklyn and Miami (twice). Only a handful of games -- perhaps only that Nets game -- approached the kind of home-team support that, say, Oklahoma City or Golden State receive. That will not happen Friday, especially if those attending heed the strong urging to arrive early.
That home crowd will surely provide an advantage. There are times, sure, where the home crowd causes a team to play too anxiously as they try to impress them, as the Raptors can attest given their Game 1 loss to Brooklyn. In general, though, a wild crowd dramatically helps a home team.
Time to turn Verizon Center into the kind of home-court advantage it hasn't been all year.