Book the lot of them into the Willard International NFL-style, sequestered on the night before home games. Maybe assign the team’s PR staff to deliver “room service” to the players at their residences. Figure out some way to incentivize the fans at Verizon Center to cheer for visiting teams and snub the homies.
Oh, you mean like booking the Miami Heat Wednesday night?
OK, that’s a start for the Washington Wizards. The well-established pattern of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the others eliciting more cheers than boos at NBA sites not named AmericanAirlines Arena, often more so than the hosts, might simulate the conditions the Wizards need. Because right now, they’re a better and different team when they’re working outside the District.
With their 102-88 victory at Chicago Monday, the Wizards pulled even at 10-10 in road games, compared to 7-9 on their own floor. They’re one of nine teams that are .500 or better away from home, with only Indiana (12-6), Miami (11-7) and Toronto (10-9) ahead of them in the East.
“Maybe we need more energy from the ‘sixth player,’ ” Wizards big man Nene said Monday. “Yeah, we need more energy. When we have a loud home, they make trouble to the visitor. The last two years, I saw a lot of the crowd cheer for Miami. So let’s see.”
Washington has won seven of its last nine on the road and even though those seven teams currently are a combined 106-156, those games could have been lost, with way less guilt and lots more rationalizing than what the Wizards can muster at home.
A simple breakdown of their play reveals negligible differences, on average, home vs. road. Washington shoots 44.4 percent at home compared to 44.5 percent on the road. Its point differential is minus-0.5 at Verizon, minus-2.0 everywhere else. It has a plus-0.8 edge on the boards at home vs. minus-0.8 on the road.
The most noticeable statistical difference favoring the Wizards’ road work comes from the arc. At home, they average 6.9 3-pointers on 20.4 attempts, a 33.8 percent rate. In hostile environments, those numbers are 8.7, 21.1 and 41.2 percent.
Then again, those environments are always so hostile, which might be part of it. Washington brings in a pretty nondescript roster, despite the talents of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat, Nene and the rest. Nobody in the stands has circled them on the calendar as “marquee opponent night.” There is opportunity in that underestimation.
“Ah, I would just say that a lot of teams, when we play on the road, we are not the team that is supposed to win,” Gortat said. “We are the underdog, so to say.”
Gortat also said: “We are capable of beating a very good team and we are capable of losing to very weak teams. At home. We’ve just got to stay smart. I guess it’s just going to be a process for us to become more mature.”
Moments later, the 6-foot-11 center from Poland went into that “mature” stuff.
“We just play more freely. We can focus in the hotel. In the locker room, you’re just sitting in one little room and trying to get ready for the game. I don’t know – at home, there’s just too many rooms, too many places where you can go. Too many places where you can dance and sing and do all [that] crap.”
Time’s up now. Ten of Washington’s next 14 games will be at home, in two five-game sets, the first of which begins against the Heat. Minutes restrictions for healthy-again Beal and Nene are off, so injuries can’t explain away any lack of consistency or focus for now. Nene’s presence in the starting lineup finally Monday had a big impact, his 19 points on 9-of-14 shooting, five rebounds, five assists and two blocks helping at both ends.
“Being with Nene, man, it brings a lot of attention,” Gortat said. “They always have to make a decision to stay with me on the roll or pick up Nene on pop. And he’s a big dude – he brings a lot of attention in the post. He’s a very good passer so I know I can seal and I can expect that pass. … It’s a totally different story. I’m open on the roll a bit more now and I was able to have a few put-backs, stuff like that. So it helps a lot.”
Time for the Wizards to start writing a different story at home. After Miami, they’ve got Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and Boston, back in their wheelhouse of sub-.500s.
Said Wall: “We’ve got to come out with a sense of urgency. We get down early. I mean, the last four or five games, we’ve been done 26, 27. That’s no way to treat your fans the way they’ve come out supporting us this year.”