After their worst start in history, the Washington Wizards became a national punch line. On TNT, Charles Barkley compared them with the Washington Generals, and a local newspaper had photos of fans wearing paper bags over their heads at Monday’s 26-point loss to San Antonio.
The jokes can stop — at least for now.
Washington earned its first victory after starting the season with 12 straight losses, beating the Portland Trail Blazers 84-82 on Wednesday night.
”When you’re 0-12, guys are going to make fun. That’s our business, guys,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said.
”When you get to this level, you’ve got to have some thick skin, and you’ve got to be able to overcome those kind of things.”
Washington survived a scoreless 6:47 in the fourth when Jordan Crawford, who had 19 points, hit on a 3-pointer with 2:06 to play. The Wizards finally took the 84-82 lead on Emeka Okafor’s two free throws with 39.1 seconds remaining.
Damian Lillard was called for traveling with 28 seconds left. After Nene was called for an offensive foul, J.J. Hickson missed a jumper with 2.8 seconds to play. The Wizards lost the ball with 0.2 seconds to go, but held on to end the skid.
”Well, we made it interesting, but we won,” Wittman said.
Nine teams started the season 0-13, and the Wizards were tired of the ridicule they’d been subjected to – locally and nationally – as they crept toward the Nets’ NBA record-worst start of 0-18.
”We don’t want to go down in history as one of the worst teams ever,” Washington forward Chris Singleton said.
Wittman, whose team travels to New York on Friday and plays Miami next Tuesday, knows the next win may be hard to get.
”We just broke through the ice. I’ve lived in Minnesota for 15, 17 years. That ice was 4 or 5 feet deep, but it’s broken through now,” Wittman said.
Trevor Ariza had 14 and Kevin Seraphin added 10 points and 10 rebounds for Washington, which ended the third quarter on a 23-7 run to take a 68-59 lead, then padded its lead to 15 barely three minutes into the fourth.
The 79-64 lead seemed safe – even for the Wizards – but the Trail Blazers ran off 16 straight points to take a 80-79 lead with 2:27 to play.
Lillard and Nicolas Batum led Portland, losers of three straight, with 20. LaMarcus Aldridge had 17. Hickson had 15 points and 19 rebounds.
”Loss is a loss, but this one definitely stings knowing the team is 0-12. You never want to be the team they get the win on but we were that team,” Hickson said.
Wesley Matthews addressed the Blazers after his team lost, and all his teammates were especially downcast.
”You don’t want to be the first team, that’s very embarrassing,” Batum said.
Martel Webster had also used ”embarrassing” to describe Washington’s 26-point loss on Monday. He was a bit relieved after the game.
”We are definitely an underdog. We’re definitely looked at as the losers of the league, but that’s OK. We believe in each other,” Webster said.
Rookie Bradley Beal wasn’t celebrating his first NBA win – one that took 29 days to get. He claimed, like most of the Wizards, to ignore the chatter on TV and in the cyber world.
”I don’t pay attention to that stuff. They’re on the outside looking in. They don’t know how hard we work. They just see us playing and the scores,” Beal said.
The Blazers hit six of their first seven shots and took a 15-4 lead four minutes into the game.
Nene entered the game with 1:43 to play and helped spur the Wizards to a 37-31 lead with six minutes to play in the first half. At halftime, the teams were tied at 43-all.
After missing the first nine games of the season with a left foot injury, Nene played two games before missing Monday night’s loss. He had six points in 19 minutes.
”For tonight: fresh air, that’s all I can say,” Nene said.
Notes: Washington F Trevor Booker missed his fourth straight game with a right knee injury. … This was the 100th all-time meeting between the teams. Portland leads 52-48. … The Wizards’ bench outscored the Trail Blazers’ 46-4. … Portland has four more games in eight days left on this season-high, seven-game road trip: at Boston, Cleveland, Charlotte and Indiana.