WASHINGTON, D.C. - I've been trying to figure the answer to this question out. It seems that fans and media have a tendency to place great weight on what happens at the end of an NBA season with respect to the future. Teams do it, too. Everyone talks about building momentum, gaining chemistry, finishing strong, etc. I'm trying to figure out how much this is true with the Washington Wizards and how much it is a construct to find meaning in a flurry of otherwise meaningless games.
It makes sense. Fans need a reason to pay attention. The media have column inches (or pixels) to fill. Coaches need to motivate their players. But how much is based in reality?
I keep thinking about when I asked Jordan Crawford where his motivation comes from during these final games.
"You a man at the end of the day You don’t want to just go out and lose. That ain’t what nobody about -- I know it ain’t what I’m about. It’s not about the future. It’s about trying to win right now."
That's an answer that makes sense. Ask Andray Blatche about how the end of last season -- when he put up Most Improved Player-type numbers -- has affected him this season. I did. His response:
"Why does everybody want to talk about last year? That was last year."
I agree. And that's how I think people will look at these games next October.
Look, there have been some nice storylines for the Wizards heading down the home stretch. Washington won three-straight games for the first time since 2008. John Wall has been brilliant, especially in demonstrating his ability to take over and close out games. Crawford has been given the green light and responded by putting points on the board, even if he hasn't been efficient doing it. Blatche has been a delight since returning from a shoulder injury.
But the Wizards' future is about much more than all this. The Wizards hopes for 2011-12 don't rest on the home stretch in 2010-11. Remember when last season's Wizards' team played above-.500 basketball over their last nine games?
Now, Flip Saunders made a good point about continuity recently.
"I think the difference is a lot of these guys are going to be coming back for us. That’s a positive, and I think we’re doing it -- it’s the progress we’ve made with the guys that have been here from day one to now. The progress of John, how he’s evolving; the progress of JaVale, how he’s evolved, the maturity of Dray.
But there is a lot that will be different about the Wizards next season, too. Washington has two first-round draft picks, for one. Rashard Lewis and Nick Young should be healthy, for two.
If the Wizards take a step forward next season, one would think there would not be many nights Crawford would score 29 points on 9-of-23 shooting. If the Wizards take a step forward next season, it's because Blatche shows up 10 pounds lighter and commits to rebounding and attacking the basket. If the Wizards take a step forward next season, it'll likely have something to do with Derrick Williams or Perry Jones or whoever else the ping-pong balls and Ernie Grunfeld delivers.
It's a pleasant surprise that Washington has gained some steam at the end of this season. I'm not taking anything away from these positives. But please, a little perspective.