OK, so it's been a month since my last post. Immediately after the Wizards were eliminated from postseason play I shut down, stopped paying attention to all things NBA (well maybe not quite ALL) and fled the country for Japan. This may sound impulsive; it wasn't. I would have gone to Japan whether or not the Wizards were still in the playoffs. That makes me a bad fan, I know.
I'm going to get back into writing about one of my favorite subjects with a trilogy of end of the season posts. The first of these three will celebrate the Wizards success this year. As disappointed as I was with the game seven exit in Boston, we had a pretty good year. And this is the last time I will ever write about 47 wins. I promise.
One of the first posts I ever wrote in this blog way back in 2012 was a lamentation that the Washington Wizards were one of just two franchises (out of 30!!) that had failed to win 47 games since I became a Wizards season ticket holder just before the 2000-2001 NBA Season. Last fall I updated that post with some more thoughts, although now the bar had moved to 48 wins and unfortunately the Wizards were the ONLY team that had failed to reach that mark since '00 because the Charlotte Hornets won 48 games the prior year. Such is the life of a Wizards fan.
I'm thrilled to be able to write this post, not only because in the 17th year I have been a season ticket holder that the Wizards have finally won 47 games. but they went above and beyond and made it a cool 49. Yes, they missed the half century mark despite public acknowledgements that they were trying to reach it. I'll take 49 for now. This is a huge weight lifted, especially because it came with home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and an oh-so-sweet Southeast Division Championship, the first of its kind in Washington. Can't wait for that banner raising this fall.
Here's how it went down from my perspective.
Win 47: Tuesday, April 4 vs. the Charlotte Hornets at Verizon Center
So this was the game I've been waiting 17 years for, whether I knew it or not. Finally, the Wiz would reach the 47 win mark. But it didn't start out so well. The Wizards post-All-Star Game basketball was at times pretty uninspired. It was almost as if they had decided they'd proved they could win a ton of games pretty consistently (going 18-3 right before the break) and would take going into the playoffs rested with a decent seed.
It almost seemed that they were right. By the time the Hornets rolled into D.C., the Wizards were guaranteed home court advantage with at worst the four seed. Ultimately that's where they stayed but these last few games meant something. We needed to be sharp at the end of the year and not just take it for granted we could turn it on after the regular season ended.
It didn't look like the Wizards cared that much in the first half, surrendering a 12 point lead to the visitors by the 24 minute mark. But I guess the team knew more than I did, outscoring the Hornets by 18 in the third and killing their spirit. The lead swelled to 13 in the fourth before Charlotte made a run but ultimately succumbed.
I should note this was the first in person hoops game for my cousin Ryan (proudly wearing his brand new John Wall jersey in the picture at the top of this post). This kid's now the biggest Wizards fan in Yorkshire over in the U.K. Hope he can stick with it through the lean years, assuming they will inevitably get here again.
Win 48: Thursday, April 6 vs. the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden
A couple of days after the Charlotte win, the Wizards were up in New York paying a visit to the hometown and utterly abominable New York Knicks. Fortunately for me, so was I for my third roadie of the season, a personal high for me.
I love attending road games. But it sure does help leaving the building when the Wizards win. And if there's a place you want to win more than any other, it's in New York. The last time I was in this building was for the 2015 All-Star Game and some guy behind me kept telling me John Wall was no good. I didn't want to lose in the Garden.
This game was pretty much the opposite of the Charlotte game. The Wizards game out strong, building a six point lead after the first quarter, moved it to eight at half and got it up to 15 five minutes into the third. They were dominant through two plus quarters and it looked like the Wizards starters could maybe call it an early night and let the bench finish off the Knicks. Not that they shouldn't have been doing that, with the Knicks suiting up without Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah or Kristaps Porzingis.
Of course it didn't last. The Knicks made a run and tied it up with just less than three minutes to go. But the starters righted the ship again and got the W. I didn't have to walk out of the Garden a loser. Win number 48. Felt good. Never been here before.
Win 49: Monday, April 10 vs. the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills
In 1988, the Detroit Pistons moved out of the Detroit metropolitan area and into the newly opened Palace of Auburn Hills, a full 32 miles from the city that the Pistons are supposed to be representing. Almost thirty years later, Bradley Beal closed the building for the home team.
I went to the Palace twice while I was in school at THE University of Michigan, once to see Duran Duran and once to see Eric Clapton (who was joined on stage by Stevie Ray Vaughan in an awesome and poignant surprise). I hated it. I couldn't believe the Pistons were playing ball all the way out in the far far far suburbs of Detroit. Seemed wrong somehow, although let's face it, those days you didn't really want to be spending time in the Motor City. Overall the building was pretty good to the Pistons; it saw them win all three of their NBA Championships while in residence there.
This was supposed to be a win for the Pistons. Despite finishing out of the playoffs the prevailing mood was that the home team would win one last game in the building for their fans that still bothered showing up to see the team. Bradley Beal was having none of it, scoring 33 in game in which he was both quietly dominant but at the same time clearly in charge of. It was the last regular season win for the Wizards sandwiched between two losses to the Miami Heat.
I was not in attendance at win number 49; so I watched it on TV, savoring one of the last calls of Phil Chenier's career. I vowed a few years ago that I would never go to a Pistons home game until they moved back to Detroit. Next year I could do that if I wanted to.
I get that the Wizards 2016-2017 season seems long gone. But I thought it was important to put in writing the thing that I've been looking for this team to do for the last 17 years. Now I don't have to complain about 47 wins every again.