It is true that the 09/10 Wizards again missed an opportunity to win three straight games, the fact is that this is a very different team than the one that began the season. So in this sense, a new, shortened season began for this team on February 18th. And with this hard fought loss – against the current 5th place team in the East on its home floor – this version of the team is 2-1 since the All-Star break (19-34 overall).
As I reflected on this game, I found myself feeling disappointed with the final outcome – which I thought was a strange feeling. Following all of the trades that Ernie Grunfeld made, with all of the new faces that were brought in, one would expect that this team would plummet, potentially giving the Nets a run for their money. However, the effort displayed over the first three games, has been the exact opposite of what one would have expected. I was disappointed because this team has changed my expectations of them. I expected them to win this game. And they nearly did.
The Wizards led after a stellar effort in the third quarter, but the Raptors captured the lead in the fourth after outscoring the Wiz 24-16. The Wiz did not get enough stops on the defensive end, had a few untimely turnovers and their inability to contain Jarrett Jack ultimately did them in. However, for a third straight game they brought a tremendous amount of effort, heart and grit. Three characteristics that this team has not always exhibited over the last two seasons. And these characteristics lead me to believe that if they consistently bring them into every game, they will win their fair share of games – at a minimum they will be entertaining and competitive. The Wizards new fond energy and effort is the reason that I thought they would pull this game out.
Yet, I admit that it is a strange feeling… I know. Following the trades, giving up as much “talent” as they did, and on paper at least, not receiving “equal value.” I expected to be watching the Wizards to see how many ping pong balls they would “earn.” Through three games their effort and, at times, execution have been impressive. There are times when it is easy to forget that the majority of these players have not logged major minutes together and in fact three of the players have been with the team for less than a week. They have their mental lapses – that is expected by players that barely know each other. They still have a few players – Dray and JaVale immediately spring to mind – that will reach at an offensive player, rather than cutting him off as he drives to the basket. (They desperately need to spend more time on this with these two players in particular.) But let’s face it, virtually all of the players they traded, with maybe DeShawn and Dom as the exceptions, played defense this way routinely. Now they have at least three players who are playing with effort on the defensive end and that effort can be and is contagious.
What Howard, Singleton and Ross lack when compared with Jamison and Butler on the offensive end, they have more than made up for by their effort and energy – particularly on defense. I would also point out that while on the surface this team gave up talented offensive players this team so far has been playing very well offensively. They have now had three straight games scoring more than 100 points. The last time this team did that was December 1 – 4, when Gilbert was still on the team. The point is that while they traded two gifted offensive talents, this team still has players who are capable of scoring points.
In the fourth quarter when the game unraveled a little and the Raptors took the lead, this team could have folded, but it didn’t. They had a chance late to potentially tie the game, but ultimately came up a bit short. The Wizards for three straight games gave great effort and played with heart. Over the last two seasons there have been countless Wizards games that were painful to watch. These last three are not included in that. Win or lose, if they continue to give this type of effort, I and many other people will look forward to watching this team play.