Maybe the Washington Wizards feel cramped inside visiting NBA locker rooms. Possibly it’s the room service they’re ordering while staying in five-star hotels. Or perhaps they just hate taking a charter bus to work.
Whatever trivial reasons might explain the Wizards' woes while playing on the road, those struggles are defining the first half of their season.
“We can’t figure out why we struggle on the road, but that’s kind of been our Achilles’ heel,” guard Bradley Beal said after the Wizards' loss in Indiana this week, but his sentiment could have been expressed at ,almost any point this season.
“We’ve got to play ourselves out of it,” Beal said.
Washington has lost 15 of 19 on the road, including losses at Cleveland and Atlanta — teams with a combined 17 wins in 66 games, a winning percentage of .258. That gives Washington the Eastern Conference’s second-worst road record. Tonight, the Wizards will have to endure another road test against the Detroit Pistons, who rank eighth in the East. If they stay true to character, the visiting Wizards will find themselves in a deficit after the first quarter, then will spend the rest of the game trying to make a comeback.
“Just coming out playing better,” guard John Wall said. “When you’re at home and dig yourself a hole, you kind of can get out of it. The crowd gives you some momentum and energy like that. On the road, we have to do a better job of coming out from the beginning and giving ourselves some life.”
The opening 12 minutes have been critical in hampering Washington’s road performances, as opponents have outscored the Wizards by an average of 5.3 points. In 13 of their 19 road games, the Wizards have fallen behind by at least 16 points. Over a two-week stretch, the Wizards played twice in Indiana, both times falling into deep holes.
On Dec. 10, the Pacers built a 25-point advantage before finishing off a closer-than-expected win, 109-101. Then on Sunday afternoon, Indiana took full advantage of the weary Wizards, who had just played a triple-overtime game the previous night. The Pacers led by as many as 12 points in the first half and eventually built their lead to 23 before cruising to a 105-89 victory.
"Just hard getting wins on the road. You got to stick with it. Try to get through it. It’s a tough time on the road but you got to figure out a ways to get wins,” center Thomas Bryant said. “We know we’re in hostile environments, home-court advantage plays a big key in it, so you just got to stay focused.”
As the Pacers pummeled the Wizards inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the hostility was amplified by a section of hardcore Indiana fans. Whenever a Wizards player went to the free-throw line, the fans mocked in a singsong chant: “John Wall hates you!” It was the third time this season a designated fan section in a road arena had heckled the Wizards with a variation of this chorus. On Sunday, however, Pacers fans also serenaded Wall with the chant — although some observers thought the group had actually chanted “John Wall hates us!”
Either way, the refrain didn’t go over well in Washington’s locker room.
“It’s stupid,” Beal said about a chant that he’s also heard in Brooklyn and Atlanta.
As for Wall, he finds it humorous.
“They said it to me when I was shooting. So I was like, ‘How can I really hate myself?’ " Wall wondered. “The fans are never a factor to me. That’s their part to heckle people and say certain things. I just laugh at it.”
In January, Washington’s challenge includes seven more road games, one requiring a transatlantic flight for the NBA Global Games showcase against the New York Knicks in London on Jan. 17.
“I just think we’ve got to have better effort,” Beal said. “Better energy, better starts.”