Have they really turned a corner? It depends what corner you're talking about. They at least have a winning record again, and that's a start. Plus, they reached it by beating one of the best teams in the league, and that's even better.
There’s been a bit of of a dry spell in the nation’s capital—the team hadn’t risen past .500 at any time since October 31, 2009.
The Wizards haven’t finished an entire season in winning territory since 2008, which was the last time they were in the playoffs—losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, just as they had for the two years previously.
According to CBS Sports Wire Reports, Wizards coach Randy Wittman put the accomplishment in perspective:
It ain't out of the way. How many more games have we got to play? You act like that was the last daggum game. If we're going to learn to be a good basketball team, we have to do this every night, no matter who you're playing.
Wizards guard Bradley Beal, however, was a bit more enthused, saying, “It’s great to finally get this team over the hump.” Beal had 13 points and six assists for the night.
In beating Portland, the Wizards played tenacious defense, holding the Blazers to just 14 points in a pivotal third quarter, and 90 points for the game itself. John Wall scored 22 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals for the Wizards. Trevor Ariza added another 20 points, and small forward Kevin Seraphin, who had only averaged 10.5 minutes per game this season, put up a season-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Starting center Marcin Gortat, who arrived at the beginning of the season via a trade with the Phoenix Suns, had 11 boards and five assists during Monday’s win. Gortat is averaging 12 points and 8.8 boards through 46 games this season.
Now, the question becomes whether this is the act of a team truly turning the corner, or merely fool’s gold. For a team that has dealt with so much change, so many losses and such controversy in recent years, perhaps the answer lies in the wins themselves.
The Wizards have now beaten the two best teams in the Western Conference in their past two games, having knocked off the Oklahoma City Thunder, 96-81, on Saturday. OKC had won 10 games in a row prior to that.
During the month of January, the Wizards also beat some other winning teams, including the Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat. They also lost to some of the league’s lesser lights in January, including the Utah Jazz and the Philadelphia 76ers.
This is the nature of a .500 team, winning and losing in equal measure. As Wittman emphasized, according to Monday's postgame CBS report:
It's great that we're 24-23 now, but I don't want them to focus on a number. I want them to focus on the act of why you're 24-23. That's where you keep it going. I want this team to get on a run. They haven't ever been on a run.
If the playoffs were held tomorrow, Washington would get in handily. To make a real impact, however, it’ll need to get better. It’s one thing to beat the top teams in the NBA during the regular season—it’s another thing to beat them in a playoff series. The Wizards haven't turned the corner until they can prove that they're playing consistently and advancing their winning season by more than a decimal point.
Making the playoffs constitutes a corner turned. But if you really want to make a statement, push past the first round.
Still, this is a positive move for a team that has faced so much adversity. The Wizards will be tested by another powerhouse from the west on Wednesday, when the San Antonio Spurs visit the Verizon Center.