Nothing explains the current state of the Washington Wizards' season better than this. Even though 35 games remain, Friday's home game nearly veers into must-win territory. Friday's opponent is the Philadelphia 76ers, owners of the NBA's worst record. Here's the thing. Since Jan. 16, the 76ers have a better record than the Wizards. Philadelphia might be a league-wide punchline, but there is little funny about how serious this matchup is for Washington less than a week before the league-wide All-Star break.
"You can't [just] say it's the next game," Wizards guard Garrett Temple said at Friday's morning shootaround.
Jared Dudley agrees.
"We're playing a team that's been struggling, but playing better of late. We're at home. We're struggling at home. We need to get a win," the veteran forward said.
Nothing comes easy these days for Washington (21-26), which has lost seven of nine games including three straight in Chinatown.
When it comes to the NBA standings, the defending champion Golden State Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers are the extremes. In consecutive home games, the Washington Wizards will go from playing a heralded, rock star squad with only four losses in nearly 50 games to a team with a 7-42 record. Philadelphia has lost three in a row including Wednesday's 124-86 debacle against Atlanta.
"We're at the point where we shouldn't look past anybody," Wizards guard Garrett Temple said. "Only time will tell. We'll find out at 7:00. Not only that, we've had experience with a team that was the laughing stock of the league come in here a couple of months ago and beat [us]. We have to make sure that doesn't happen again."
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Temple is of course referring to the loss against the 2-14 Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 3.
Since Jan. 16, Washington is 2-7. Philadelphia, playing better since acquiring guard Ish Smith, is 3-6.
The primary issue for the Wizards remains defense. Washington is 1-3 in its last four games despite averaging 113.7 points. Denver, Houston, Oklahoma City and Golden State averaged 122 against them.
"The positives for us over the last 4-5 games is that offensively we're back," Dudley noted. "We can score 100-plus. We've shown that. Now the question is can we get enough stops. That's the whole question. Turnovers, rebounding...defending the 3."
The question against the 76ers involves can the Wizards prevent Smith from taking control. The quick point guard was with Washington in training camp and started the season in New Orleans before joining Philadelphia around Christmas. Since then, the 76ers are 6-12 after starting 1-30. Smith's presence helping to direct traffic for the inexperienced roster is a reason why. In 18 games he's averaging 15.4 points and 8.1 assists.
"They're a different team over the last month," Temple said. "Ish gives them a guy who can control the pace, push the pace, get in the paint and throw lobs."
After facing the 76ers, the Wizards play three straight road games before the break. Close out strong and the playoff talk, not to mention confidence remains. Limp into the break and who knows.
"We need to finish on a positive note before the break then everyone can reset and come back," Dudley said. "You never want to call February must-win games, but it's the closest of a must-win February game you can possibly get and it's something we need to get going for confidence wise."
Notes: Wizards coach Randy Wittman did not attend shootaround, but he is expected to be on the sideline Friday night. Wittman missed the last two games following the passing of his brother.
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