WASHINGTON - From nothing to something. By now, everyone knows the Washington Wizards started the season 2-8. They were a mess and the mess was convincing. And the players on the team will admit that.
But now, here the Wizards stand at the top of the Southeast Division as the four seed in the Eastern Conference. They have the best record in the conference since December 1st and have bolstered their confidence to new heights.
What cannot be lost in this massive turnaround for the Wizards is their record at home. The team has won 15 straight in the Verizon Center to push their overall home record to 20-6 — the second best home record in the conference and the third best overall behind the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors.
Their last home loss? An early December stinker where John Wall scored a career high 52 points against the Orlando Magic. The loss was embarrassing, to say the least, and led to what would probably be the most memorable and condemning quote of the season.
“Our job is to wake up and just play hard,” Wall said after the loss.
Just a month ago in December, the Wizards’ crowds had blatant pockets you could visibly see from television broadcasts.
Now, the Wizards have arguably one of the best homecourt advantages in the league. As their home support continues to swell, so do their win totals.
“In the past, sometimes we’d be better on the road and not good at home. We’re happy to be good at home. It’s more fun when your fans are there supporting,” Wall said. “Early on, they wasn’t there as much. You can understand why. We got off to a terrible start. Now we got it clicking and they’re supporting us.”
It all started with a win against the Nuggets, but Wall said the team really figured things out against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 14. The Hornets made a late rally after the Wizards pulled away in the third quarter, but Wall said the team figured out how to close the game and their home court advantage played a part of it.
That same tune is still ringing today. The Wizards are riding their home advantage to the upper echelon of the conference. Markieff Morris said there’s an “extra bounce” in the team’s step when they’re at home. And the numbers say he’s right.
According to NBA.com’s stats tool, the Wizards are 1.6 points better per 100 possessions in home wins than they are in road wins. Overall, the team has a +6.4 net rating at home and a -2.6 net rating on the road. The team’s overall true shooting percentage is 58.8 at home versus 53.8 on the road.
NBA teams are usually better at home than they are on the road, but Washington has been a little more extreme than most this most this season. Things are starting to normalize after winning four of their last five on the road, but the contrast is still evident.
Though fan support may not seem like a critical part of the team’s success, both Wall and Morris said the crowd’s support helps push the Wizards forward in wins like their 117-101 victory against the Knicks on Tuesday night.
“We enjoy playing at home,” Morris said. “Fans are doing a great job of cheering us on and just being there for us.”
As good as playing at home may feel, Kelly Oubre, Jr., who has been a key contributor off the bench during the Wizards’ streak, said they cannot allow their success to distract them from the challenges that await them further down the road on the sch.
Every time the team wins at home, he said, they hear about it from everywhere. It can become haunting, in a sense, if too much thought is put into keeping a streak alive. Oubre said the Wizards have to focus on the next game up.
“We’re not going out there every game worrying about what’s going on and worrying about what we’ve got to do to keep the streak going,” Oubre said. “We’re just going out there and playing basketball. Playing the basketball that we know.”