On Monday evening, the Washington Wizards (9-31) came into San Antonio holding the second worst record in the Eastern conference, and their own fans despised one of their own players.
The Wizards were embarking on a six-game road trip when the Spurs defeated them by 15-points on Monday night, but for this Wizards team, this game meant something a little bit more.
Before the game, Wizards center Andre Blatche walked into the Wizards locker room singing “Never Say Never” by Justin Bieber. Blatche was actually smiling and in a good mood.
“(He) does not have to worry from a mental standpoint,” said Wizards head coach Randy Wittman before tip-off against the Spurs, on Blatche, “What’s going on around him.”
Wittman was referring to the way things have been for Blatche back in Washington, where fans have been booing Blatche during Wizards home games because of incidents he’s been involved in throughout the season.
The Wizards are a young team, they have a few veterans amongst their locker room like Roger Mason Jr., Maurice Evans, and Rashard Lewis, but for the most part, the main players for the team are all in their early to mid 20s.
I spoke with Spurs center DeJuan Blair about what it’s like to learn to be a professional amongst a veteran group like the Spurs,“(It’s) good,” said Blair, “Because you learn a lot.”
I also asked Blair before the game if he thought he would have the same maturity level he does today, had he been drafted to a young team (like the Wizards) with inconsistency in leadership or experience.
“I don’t think so,” Blair told me.
After the Wizards displayed two teams on the floor in San Antonio, meaning they allowed the Spurs to score 63 points in the first half, then finally showed some defense in the second half as they held the Spurs to under 50 points, coach Wittman spoke about where his team really needs to focus.
“That’s what we’re all worried about, ‘I got my 21’.”
“I don’t care about the 21,” said Wittman after the game. He went onto say that his team needed to worry more about defense and chemistry, rather than worrying about statistics.
Wizards forward Nick Young spoke about what it was like trying to play defense against the Spurs, “They just picked us apart.”
He too also commented on Blatche’s more comfortable situation being on the road, “I’ve been trying to give him confidence,” said Young, “it’s easier when you ain’t got the boos.”
“He just came out and stayed focused,” continued Young, “he didn’t have to worry about the boos.”
I also asked Young what he thought about being defended by Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard, who looked like he contested every shot Young put up, and even forced Young to turn the ball over when the two were on the floor together.
“He’s a big time player, he’s from L.A. (Los Angeles),” said Young, “Only the best come out of California.”
As for Blatche, playing in San Antonio was much more comfortable than playing at home in the Verizon Center in Washington D.C., “I’m definitely more comfortable.”
Though statistically he had a good night, Wizards forward Javale McGee (21 points, 14 rebounds) pretty much said his team couldn’t do anything to stop the Spurs.
“They were knocking down their three’s,” said McGee, “so we couldn’t do anything about that.”
On one play in the first quarter, Tim Duncan took the ball coast-to-coast and dunked on the other end. When McGee was asked if he surprised that Duncan (35 years old) was able to look so agile and quick against his team, McGee responded “No, not really.”
Monday night was the only time the Spurs and Wizards will face each other this season, the young Wizards COULD have taken a lesson from the discipline, consistency, and routine the Spurs display game-after-game-after-game, but as the young Wizards left the locker room, they still appeared to walk out the door as a team looking to pad their stats and focus on one-on-one basketball.
Coach Wittman will continue to try and build a solid program with the young Wizards, but it’s up to them to take their coaches message to heart. The Wizards are actually a very talented team that has a lot of explosiveness, but their lack of focus on the defensive end and non-comprehension of team chemistry will only result in another disappointing finish for the franchise.
If you’re a Spurs fans, you should be fortunate to know that your team would never have any of the issues that I’ve listed above with the Wizards. For one, Spurs fans wouldn’t boo one of their own, because a Spurs player wouldn’t publicly come out and call out the coaching staff or fans. Head coach Gregg Popovich always critiques his team based on defense, and even the Spurs players know they aren’t seeing any floor time if they don’t show any effort on the defensive end. And last, the Spurs as players don’t care about who scores so many points every night. One night Tony Parker could lead in scoring, the next Manu Ginobili, the next Gary Neal, and so on, until you have a team that has had multiple leading scorer’s this season from Tim Duncan to Matt Bonner.
For the Spurs, professionalism is already ingrained in their fans, players, and organization.
It’s a lesson the Wizards should have learned Monday night, but did they?