WASHINGTON - Times are changing in Washington.
Just two months ago, the Wizards were sitting in the bottom 10th of the league with a record of 2-8. They weren’t good on the road. They weren’t good at home. Their bench stunk and there were questions about chemistry surrounding the team.
Fast forward to Tuesday night and the Wizards seem to be the only team in the league who can convince a national audience that a regular season game on January 24th matters. The Wizards chose to dress in all black before the game with the Celtics to prepare for “a funeral,” as John Wall called it.
The budding rivalry between these two sides is entertaining, but many will tell you it doesn’t matter. It might not for Boston, but for Washington? It matters. Less in terms of standings and more in terms of confidence and chemistry.
Over the 24 hours prior to the game after the Twittersphere caught wind of the Wizards’ impish antics, they talked about how this could potentially end up blowing up in their faces.
Many brought up how the Knicks pulled the same pre-game antics against the Celtics a few years ago before a playoff game New York wound up losing at home. How could the Wizards pull this stunt out for a regular season game?
Celtics’ star point guard Isaiah Thomas referred to the Wizards wearing all black as “cute” and said normally teams would pull something like that after a game seven or an important playoff game. He reiterated as much after the Wizards 123-108 win over Boston.
“They wanted to wear black tonight. It shouldn’t even go there. It’s not that type of rivalry,” Thomas said. “It was funny. I remember the Dallas Mavericks wore black in their championship run. For series-ending wins. We’ve still got about 38 more games left.”
Those are all valid points. The Wizards did put themselves in a quandary where the spotlight was solely on them for bringing themselves such attention. Had they lost the game, they’d be the next great Jordan meme of 2017.
But that also completely misses the point for this team. This team has nothing to lose. This team already came from nothing. They were 2-8. They were supposed to break it up. They were ready to tank. Wearing all black to bury a pest? Please — that’s child’s play.
This was bravado. This was confidence and belief exuded for the first time since Paul Pierce called game. This was fun. Both John Wall and Bradley Beal said as much after the game.
“There’s going to be pressure. I think it was. But no matter what it was, we had to come out here and compete,” Wall said. “They seen everything that we said, we heard what they said. I think it was just a great, clean game today.”
“It was a team thing, we were just having fun. It was nothing personal, we were just having fun,” Beal said. “It’s great to be able to get it going. Emotions are high ... We knew what this game was. We all had it circled.”
The Wizards knew what they were doing. Backing up talk is never easy. That’s why coaches shy away from letting things like this out of the locker room. But Wizards’ Head Coach Scott Brooks embraced it. And he said it made the team better. Chemistry is always a “work in progress,” Brooks said, “But it has to be authentic.”
“We’re playing for each other. I preach it all year long with our guys and I believe in it. You’ve got to play every game with passion and a commitment to each other,” Brooks said.
And now the Wizards sit at the 5th spot in the Eastern Conference. Since December 1st, they are 19-9 with the 6th best offense and 13th best defense in that span. What Brooks has been preaching is working. The team is playing for each other. They’re talking the talk and backing it up. They’re playing well and riding it further up into the conference.
A season that started off as disheartening and filled with mystery has now turned around into hope and honest curiosity. The team still has many questions surrounding it, and the answers will ultimately determine how long the Wizards can ride this wave.
But for now, just sit back and enjoy the show.