There have been many times throughout this season where it seemed like the Wizards season was on life support. But now, as they enter Thursday’s game against the Pacers, the threat of it all being over is very real.
The Wizards lost on Tuesday in the first game of the play-in tournament and they only get one more chance. A win would advance them to the first round of the playoffs against the Sixers, while a defeat would mark the end of their 2020-21 season.
That may paint a bleak picture, and with the way the Wizards played in Boston on Tuesday, external confidence has certainly taken a hit. But the Wizards are used to being in this position, with plenty of experience pulling themselves up off the mat.
They began the season 0-5 while Russell Westbrook was playing through an unannounced injury, which led to speculation about how much he had left in the tank, and whether the Wizards had traded for damaged goods. They went 3-3 in their next six games, only to suffer a major outbreak of the coronavirus on their roster. They didn’t play a game for 13 days, as six were postponed.
When they returned to action, they lost nine of 12 games before hitting their stride to win seven of eight. Then, they cratered to lose 14 of 18, reaching rock bottom at 15 games under .500. That was on April 5, with only about six weeks left in the season.
That’s when their big turnaround happened, the one that pushed them into the position they are now. They won 17 of their final 23 games, finally overcoming a long list of injuries to key players.
Head coach Scott Brooks hopes all of those experiences will come in handy now as the Wizards face the prospect of a do-or-die game. His team needs to once again show the resiliency that brought them here.
“If I were to have told the guys right after that game [on April 5] ‘hey, just hang tough, keep believing, keep fighting; this loss is going to help us get to a one game at home vs. the Pacers to be a chance for the playoffs against the Sixers, would you believe me? Would you want that?’ Every one of them would have said yes, and twice on Sunday. Our guys are going to be excited. I’m excited,” Brooks said.
The situation the Wizards currently need to fight back from is different than any they have encountered before, in that there isn’t any time left to figure it out. They have to play better and win, or else.
They also played a game on Tuesday against the Celtics that displayed some real concerns. Westbrook wasn’t quite himself, though the team has denied any injuries were to blame. Bradley Beal and Raul Neto are clearly not 100 percent, in Beal’s case admittedly. Those factors helped contribute to the team’s worst loss in over a month.
The good news would be the Wizards are playing a Pacers team they beat all three times they played them this season. And, the game is at home where the Wizards have won nine of their last 10.
There are conflicting factors at play. But one thing’s for sure; the Wizards have to win this game.
“I feel confident that we will bounce back. We have really good players. Our guards are top guards in the league. The backcourt is obviously a big part of what we do. But our other players will come back and play better,” Brooks said.