There’s nothing gratifying about being at the .500 mark for the Washington Wizards, who have been pretty clear they’re exhausted from discussing it.
To coach Randy Wittman, that’s a sign his team is maturing.
Washington plays the first of back-to-back road games before the All-Star break Tuesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, who hope to have Mike Conley back in the lineup.
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The Wizards (25-25) are in position for their first playoff berth since 2007-08, and they climbed above .500 for the first time in over four years by opening this month with impressive wins over Oklahoma City and Portland to begin their five-game homestand.
Washington, though, lost close games to San Antonio and Cleveland following those victories before nearly blowing a 17-point lead in a 93-84 win over Sacramento on Sunday.
"I don’t care about .500,” said Nene, who finished with a team-high 18 points against the Kings. ”We need everything we can. That’s the mentality. If you’re going to think small like that, it’s fine, just stop right there. If you want to go for the gold, the championship, make the team better, you need to think forward.”
Marcin Gortat added 17 points and Bradley Beal had 16 for the Wizards, who led by 12 at halftime before nearly letting the lead slip away.
”I don’t want them to be satisfied,” Wittman said. ”We’re back to .500. We’re better than .500. I want them to believe that. They believe that.”
Washington has finished at least 26 games below .500 in each of the last five seasons, but it is tied with Chicago for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Wizards face Houston on Wednesday before the break.
”We wish we could have had at least 10 more wins, but at the end of the day, we really can’t complain where we are at,” Beal said. ”We’re in a solid position playoff-wise, but we still have a lot of moves to make.”
Memphis also will be looking to improve its standing following the All-Star break, but it has lost three of four as Conley continues to nurse a sprained right ankle suffered in a win over Minnesota on Jan. 31.
The Grizzlies (27-23) fell to 2-5 without Conley this season after Sunday’s 91-83 overtime loss at Cleveland.
"He’s progressing," coach David Joerger said. "He’ll be a game-time decision against a Washington Wizards team that has been playing very well."
Nick Calathes has started the last five games in place of Conley and has averaged 14.6 points after scoring 17 against the Cavaliers. The rookie averaged 3.0 points in his previous 34 appearances.
Memphis, which visits Orlando on Wednesday before the break, currently is on the outside of the playoff picture in the West.
"We’ve got 30 games after the break, and we’ve put ourselves in a bit of a hole," Joerger said. "That’s a tough place to be in the West. You don’t ever want to be in a position where you have to say, ‘To get to X number of wins, you have to go 22-8 or whatever it may be.’ That can be too difficult to overcome."
Conley had 23 points in the last meeting with Washington on March 23, but John Wall scored a career-high 47 as the Wizards ended a three-game skid in the series with a 107-94 home win.