Column: Cause for hope, frustration as Wizards’ season ends

Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat, left, congratulates Indiana Pacers forward David West after Game 6 of an Eastern Conference semifinal NBA basketball playoff series in Washington, Thursday, May 15, 2014. The Pacers defeated the Wizards 93-80 to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – Well, it was fun while it lasted.

The roller coaster ride that was the Washington Wizards’ season ended with Thursday night’s 93-80 Game 6 loss to the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the NBA Playoffs. The score would suggest it all ended with a thud, but if you saw the game you’d see cause for both optimism and consternation.

The Wiz erased a 12-point halftime deficit and actually took a lead with about 8 minutes left in the game. Once again, they demonstrated the kind of grit and determination that was a hallmark of their somewhat surprising playoff run.

Unfortunately, another hallmark of their playoff run was the inability to play well for a full 48 minutes. Ironically, the only quarter the Wizards won in Game 6 was the third quarter (23-19). That same quarter gave the Wiz fits during the series and led to losses in Games 2 through 4.

But down the stretch, it was too much David West and not enough of John Wall or Bradley Beal. The Wizards’ young backcourt showed they’re certainly the bedrock of the future. But they have quite a ways to go before being playoff-tested. Save for an outstanding Game 5 on Tuesday, Wall struggled to find his shot in the postseason, and Beal did not consistently carry the team offensively.

This is equal parts frustrating and reassuring: The Wizards beat themselves in this series. They can’t blame the refs or any outside circumstance (though, Joey Crawford and Lady Gaga may have a few fingers pointed at them) for losing to a very beatable Indiana squad.

These are the NBA Playoffs. You can’t disappear after halftime, blow big leads, and go 0-3 at home — regardless of how much the Pacers were reeling.

Which leads me to another frustration: the 1-4 home record in the playoffs. This is confounding given the Wizards posted a winning record at home during the regular season (22-19). The three home losses to Indiana means the Wiz haven’t won a second round home game since 1979.

How very Les Boulez.

Fortunately, the problems that cost the Wizards in the postseason are correctable. It wasn’t a lack of talent that did them in. The Wiz have a bench as good as anybody’s. Randy Wittman did a solid job coaching the team. With a little more experience and a couple more breaks in their favor, it’s not a stretch to think the Wizards will be right back in this position a year from now.

Of course, that all depends on what GM Ernie Grunfeld does this summer. Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat are both free agents, and the Wizards can probably only afford to keep one of them if they intend to be players in the Kevin Durant derby in 2016.

(Ugh…off-season talk. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write this for another week or so.)

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the Wizards’ season is over after such a promising start. Perhaps they bought into the considerable hype given to them by Charles Barkley, Bill Simmons and Tim Legler. Maybe the playoff stage against a more experienced opponent was too much to overcome.

Whatever the reason for the Wizards’ failure to advance, there’s still plenty of reasons to believe this experience is a springboard for even bigger success in the future. The Wiz Kids now have local and national respect. They brought excitement to Verizon Center at a time when the Capitals failed to provide it.

And if the Wizards can keep enchanting D.C. with playoff basketball on an annual basis, they might just supplant the Redskins as the biggest game in town.

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