Checking In With The Wizards, Also Known As The Best Team On Earth

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: Trevor Booker #35 of the Washington Wizards celebrates as Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the second half of the Wizards 106-101 win at the Verizon Center on March 7, 2012 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Wizards beat the Lakers on Wednesday night, and that means we have an excuse to talk #NewTraditions again. It's been a rough year, but just when you're ready to stop caring, they pull you back in...

I was trying to figure out what was so depressing about the Washington Wizards this year. Most other seasons, even through a lot of bad seasons, I go to between 25 and 30 games a year, and watch about 75 percent of their road games. This year, I've been to four games and haven't been able to watch more than three or four games on TV. The 2012 Wizards just make me sad.

I was trying to explain this to myself on Wednesday on the way to the Wizards-Lakers game, and finally realized what makes the Wizards worse than even a team like the Bobcats.

The Wizards are worse than the worst team in the NBA because there's not really an excuse. The Bobcats have gotten shafted in the lottery year after year, and in 2012, they're openly tanking and holding out hope that maybe this year's lottery will be different. Fair enough.

The Wizards, though ... they make all the same mistakes as a young team like the Bobcats, except that they're not really a young team anymore. A young team is like a puppy -- it'll make tons of mistakes, but it can't help it. Those players are trying, and ultimately it's all kind of endearing.

This Wizards roster is like the four-year-old dog that still makes puppy mistakes. At that point, you can't play the puppy card. That's just an annoying, hopeless dog that keeps pissing on your carpet. It is what it is. Anyway, this is what I was thinking about on the way to the Laker game Wednesday.

And since it's been way too long since I had a chance to write about the Wizards, let's go with a little disorganized recap of what happened, plus some other notes. Starting with ...

Star-divide

What Might Have Been: I walked in during warm-ups, and just as I sat down, the PA system started blaring Drake and Rick Ross' "Stay Schemin." Kobe Bryant was bobbing his head. We were headed for maybe the greatest moment in pregame shootaround history. Alas, the Wizards broke into the music to air a PSA from their cheerleaders, so we missed Drake rapping about Kobe's divorce while Kobe shot around. Next to Gil missing those free throws in Game 6 against Cleveland in 2006, this might be the cruelest "almost" I've ever had at Verizon Center.

Kobe-bitch-shootin-gym-drake-11_medium

The Game Got Started with JaVale McGee airballing a shot from four feet out. The crowd didn't even boo here. They just laughed -- literally half the stadium was laughing. That's got to be worse, right?

Speaking Of The Boos. Yeah, let's talk about Andray Blatche for a minute. I feel pretty bad for him, because while I've been pretty horrible to him in the past, this season, you can see all the pain right on his face. It's uncomfortable for everyone, really. But Wizards fans keep booing him.

It reached a crescendo with Monday's game, one of his first back from injury. After a 20-point loss, Blatche spoke out about the critics, and he was honest:

"It's tough when you're at home and people that are supposed to have your back don't have your back. Instead of encouraging you to get better, they actually push you down and make you worse. In the long run, it's not only hurting me, it's hurting my teammates. Any time I'm touching the ball, I'm second-guessing," he said. "I'm trying to avoid the boos, just trying to play a perfect game so I don't have to hear it and help my team win."

It's like a JV player letting the varsity guys get in his during a pickup game, except that Andray Blatche is making $30 million to play professional basketball. Either way, though: It's hard, it's obviously affecting 'Dray and you can't help but feel for him.

The thing is, there's nobody on the Wizards who personifies what makes this franchise so infuriating quite like 'Dray. Plenty of potential, long-term commitment from the team, but on the court he's just a mess. He's terrible on defense, lazy on offense, has none of the intangibles that separate good players from bad, and when the going gets tough, Blatche doesn't give a f***. Everything you could say about Andray Blatche, you could say about the Wizards as a whole over the past three years, and where fans might have held out hope that something would change, this has been the year when everyone's lost patience. All you can do is boo the three guys to the right.

Wizards_medium

Anyway, on Wednesday the Washington Post ran article written by Michael Lee titled, "Andray Blatche's Extension Haunts Him And The Wizards," and while it's the most predictable ending this side of Donovan McNabb's trainwreck with the Redskins, it still sort of sucks to see how bad things have gotten. Here, Dray basically admits he understands that the team will be better off without him:

"If in any way and form they feel like it’s time for me to go, it’s part of the business. No hard feelings in this at all."

Blatche was more fun before he started being so incredibly depressing, you know? And that's been the Wizards this year. They've been hilarious for everyone else, but up close, this whole spectacle is mostly a reminder that there's a tipping point in the relationship between fans and a team, or a team and its players, and once it goes bad, it gets pretty ugly for everyone.

Having Said That: I watched about four minutes of Monday night's Wizards-Warriors game, and when I turned it off with the Warriors up 20 in the fourth quarter, I thought, "Well, screw it, better to be the Wizards than the Warriors!" Because at least the Wizards are THAT bad.

Bad enough to land a top-five pick and clean house, maybe, and then eventually get good.

The Warriors can fool themselves into thinking they're not far off from contending. That's what the Wizards have done for years. This season has destroyed that illusion in Washington, and with a massive overhaul imminent this summer, maybe that's all for the best. But yeah: How weird is it that losing by 20 points to a crappy Warriors team is actually kind of reassuring for fans?

Anyway, back to the Lakers game.

OMG KOBE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The first half went off without a hitch Wednesday night, with L.A. jumping out to a double-digit lead somewhere in the second quarter, Lakers fans serenading Kobe with MVP chants every time he went to the line, and Josh McRoberts catching alley-oops just to make the whole experience super-duper emasculating.

I really can't say enough about the screeching Kobe fans who made it out Wednesday. They really brought their A-game, complete with ear-splitting screams and full-on delusion. (MVP!!!!)

On the other hand, as a basketball fan, it's always fun to watch Kobe play. He's as close as we'll ever get to Jordan, less because of his game than because of his pathological obsession with greatness, the ego that creeps into just about every move he makes on the court -- especially when someone like Jordan Crawford is guarding him -- and his general disregard for what anyone thinks. I was a little disappointed that he didn't just keep shooting free throws while they played the national anthem. Say what you want about his game, but one day we're going to miss watching Kobe.

Then The Second Half Happened. It's still unclear how it all came unraveled for the Lakers, but Kobe stopped hitting his jumpers, the Lakers offense had no Plan B and, thanks in large part to Roger Mason Jr.'s three-point shooting, the Wizards cut a 20-point lead down to two at the start of the fourth quarter. Another Mason three gave Washington the lead early in the fourth, and they just never looked back, I guess? I don't know. It still makes no sense. Except for this ...

Trevor Booker Is A Monster. His rebounding changes the games on both ends and he gives the Wizards an edge that they haven't had for maybe the past 15 years. Everything Rick Ross and Jay-Z rapped on "Monster" applies pretty directly to Trevor Booker's game.

Fat motherf****, now look who's in trouble.

As you run through his jungles, all you hear is rumbles.

Sasquatch, Godzilla. King Kong, Loch Ness. Goblin, ghoul, a zombie with no conscience.

Question, what do these things all have in common?

Trevorbooker_medium
Rob Carr/Getty Images

I hope that appears on a scouting report one day.

#FreeJohnWall. For all the Booker praise and the Kevin Seraphin love (that's next), it needs to be said: John Wall deserves real teammates. I thought he'd be good enough to single-handedly lift everyone else, but he's not. That doesn't mean he can't be great; he just plays better when he's got someone -- or anyone -- worthy of being on the same court as him. You can see it in the way he moves with the Wizards. He's not openly rebelling, but he's not happy, and he shouldn't be.

For instance, take the Lakers fourth quarter. After a huge Booker offensive rebound gave the Wizards another shot on a critical possession -- it was a one-point game at that point -- Wall was wide open in the corner, calling for the ball. Then Crawford started dribbling, and Wall put his hand down and just watched. And ... surprise! Crawford stepped back and launched a 27-foot three that clanked off the iron. Obviously.

A few minutes before that, there was also a defensive mix-up that gave the Lakers an easy bucket, where Wall walked off the court with Randy Wittman screaming at him. Wall looked, smiled and, if we're reading lips, I believe he said, "Pssschhht," then walked past him. Wittman kept screaming, this time to his coaches, while incredulously pointing at the bench. A nice NBA moment.

Hopefully things change this summer, and even if the Wizards don't become a playoff team overnight, at least hope the majority of this roster will be replaced with guys who actually have enough potential and ability to keep Wall engaged. I'm (obviously) making excuses for Wall here, but only because he's looked so great elsewhere -- at Kentucky, in All-Star games, in the summer with Kevin Durant, the handful of Wizards games where he's looked superhuman -- that he deserves the benefit of the doubt for now. There's still a decent chance that one day he'll blossom into an artist of death like Derrick Rose, and we'll look back on this Wizards season as Wall's blue period.

Another Nice NBA Moment. After that hard-fought regular season action ... via Dan Steinberg:

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I love this game. Finally ...

KEV-EEEEEEEEEEEEEN SERRRRRAPHINNNNNNNNN.

I spent most of the first half wondering why he was in the game and cursing the day we drafted him. At one point, he volleyball-spiked a loose ball out of bounds. "Motor skills are not a Seraphin specialty," I wrote on my BlackBerry.

But kind of like Blatche personifies the Wizards over the past four years, Seraphin personified the Wizards against the Lakers. Clueless, pathetic and generally unfit for the NBA. And then ... TOTALLY AND INEXPLICABLY AWESOME. And just when you're ready to stop caring, they pull you back in.

As Bullets Forever noted, this is the best Lakers-Wizards recap you could ask for.

140901688_medium

Thank you, Rob Carr and Getty Images. That's pretty much perfect.

Only thing missing is 10,000 fairweather L.A. fans, all of whom went home unhappy, and the other 10,000 Wizards fans who replaced "MVP" chants for Kobe with "Beat L.A." chants, then watched it happen. Maybe the Wizards won't be hopeless forever? #NEWTRADITIONS!

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