Amid all of the sound and (much less) fury of Hurricane Sandy, most of Washington probably didn’t realize that Tuesday night marked the opening game for the 2012-13 Washington Wizards season.
We don’t have to pretend like the Wizards are the most popular pro sports team in town, but we also need to get ready for a long winter most likely void of Capitals hockey. Until the NHL owners and players can come to some sort of contract agreement—with the prospects getting dimmer by the day—NBA hoops is all DC will have until college hoops gets into full gear in January.
Tuesday night, the Wiz played the basketball we’ve come to expect in the years since the Gilbert Arenas experiment devolved into a series of jokes about fingagunz and soiled sneakers. Missing their two best players, Nene and John Wall, thanks to injuries, the Wizards came out of the gate slow, shot poorly, and trailed by as many as 14 in the second half. Cleveland, the Wizards’ opponent, is a pretty bad team, which made the first three quarters of the game that much more disheartening.
But then, out of nowhere, encouragement appeared. A collection of Wizards reserves led a fourth-quarter rally, eventually taking a two-point lead over the Cavaliers. The Wiz did not have enough to hold on for the win, but there were some positives to take from the 94-84 loss.
The players leading the rally are the opposite of household names: Earl Barron, Martell Webster, Jannero Pargo.
Even for the folks who scoff at NBA basketball—you know, the crowd of “those guys make too much money and don’t play hard enough” critics—these are players you can root for.
The seven-foot-tall Barron was never drafted into the NBA, and his résumé includes stops in such basketball hotbeds as Turkey and the Philippines. It is safe to say nothing was given to Barron in his professional career, and if he can continue to play like he did in the Wizards opener he will earn everything he receives.
As recently as Monday, Pargo was unsure of his roster spot with the Wiz, and poor Martell Webster was sleeping in his car just last week. (Granted, sleeping in the car was Webster’s fault—he left his keys in Kansas City—but still had to be uncomfortable.)
Of course it was only one game, but it was fun to watch the Wiz bench mob come back to close the gap against the Cavs. The ceiling for this Wizards team is low; Vegas set the team’s win total at 27.5 out of 82 games. Little is expected of this team, especially while Wall and Nene face uncertain futures dealing with knee and foot injuries respectively.
But with baseball over, no Caps hockey in sight, and only one opportunity a week to watch our boy RG3, it’s not a bad idea to remember the Wizards. They are going to lose, a lot, but nobody said a loss can’t be entertaining. Head coach Randy Wittman will lead the NBA in honesty, and it is refreshing to see players fighting for a chance to prove they belong in the world’s best basketball league.
I won’t champion false optimism for the 2012-2013 Wiz campaign in this space, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be fun. People in Chicago go to Wrigley Field every day in the summer, knowing the Cubs are losers but loving them still.
Wizards fever. Catch it.
Find JP Finlay on Twitter @jpfinlay.