By DERON SNYDER
The late Dennis Green unleashed a classic rant following his Arizona Cardinals’ defeat against the Chicago Bears in 2006.
“They are what we thought they were, and we let them off the hook,” Green shouted after Arizona blew a 20-0 halftime lead. “… If you want to crown them, then crown their (expletive).”
The Washington Wizards are the exact opposite.
They are not what we thought they were. We cannot let them off the hook. And we have no desire to crown their (expletive), unless the title is NBA’s Most Schizophrenic.
In terms of star power, the Wizards have met expectations. Bradley Beal on Tuesday was named to his first All-Star Game. Backcourt mate John Wall earned his fifth consecutive selection. Eastern Conference head coaches picked the pair, acknowledging their status as top-tier guards.
But the Wizards were drubbed a day earlier by one of the league’s worst teams, Dallas. The Mavericks shot 44 percent compared to the visitors’ 31 percent in a 98-75 rout.
The sorry Mavs were triumphant in November as well, recording a 113-99 victory at Capital One Arena.
Charlotte, another sub-.500 team, enjoyed a chance to beat its chest last week in a 133-109 eyesore against Washington. The Hornets, 17-26 against everyone else, are 2-0 when facing the Wizards.
Such losses surprised us earlier. There was the 47-point embarrassment against Utah and the 35-point humiliation against Brooklyn. There were defeats against non-contenders like Atlanta, Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Those outcomes have become too commonplace to shock us any longer. Now they simply affirm that we were wrong about this team, way off regarding what it could and should accomplish.
That thrilling Christmas Day victory at Boston in front of a national audience? Seems like ages ago. It hardly was a harbinger of sustained success. Entering Thursday’s game at Oklahoma City, Washington is a middling 7-6 since Dec. 25.
The inconsistency is maddening.
Four days after beating Boston, the Wizards thumped Houston, arguably the NBA’s second-best team. Another signature win against a championship-caliber squad. But five games later, the Wizards failed to exact revenge for the second-worst loss in franchise history. They fell, at home, against Utah (2-0 against Washington, 17-28 against everyone else).
Teams that aspire after Top 4 seeds and the conference finals don’t suffer inferior opponents, but that’s the Wizards’ specialty. Washington is 11-10 against opponents with winning records, but a mere 15-11 when facing teams under .500.
Compare that latter mark to the East’s current top four: Boston (18-6), Toronto (18-2), Cleveland (16-6) and Miami (16-7). In the West, Golden State is 17-4 against teams with losing records; Houston is 19-4.
The Wizards’ lifeless performance against lackluster competition has changed perceptions locally and nationally. They entered the season as chic picks to finally survive the conference semifinals – where three of the last four campaigns have ended.
But with 35 games remaining, the Wizards are considered the NBA’s biggest disappointment.
Beal pleads guilty.
“The fans, the critics, writers – nobody is more upset than we are,” he said Tuesday on NBC Sports Washington. “… We can’t break down and pout about it or try to argue back with what other people say, because at the end of the day we agree with them. We shouldn’t be where we are. But reality is reality.”
In real life, advancing to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last year was fool’s’ gold.
We assumed the next step would be forward. But the Wizards are moving in the opposite direction.
They’re on pace to win 45 games, short of last season’s 49. Big men Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith have all regressed, which is saying something for the last two.
Kelly Oubre has shown tremendous progress, but those strides are offset by Otto Porter Jr.’s stagnancy. Even the All-Star backcourt is down, or flat, based on several measures.
“We wanted to be a top-two team in the East,” Wall said Tuesday on TNT. “But us as leaders, we’ve got to do a better job in the second half of the season to get us on the right track.”
The current route suggests they’ll beat OKC on Thursday and lose at Atlanta on Saturday.
We could understand Golden State underachieving over the slog of 82 games. Regular-season contests must be somewhat mundane when you’ve won two of the last three NBA titles. But the Warriors (34-14) are taking care of business, nonetheless.
Conversely, Washington has no excuse for playing down against the dregs and up against the elites. It gives us no reason to believe a switch will be flipped when the playoffs begin.
The Wizards have toned down their yakking about having next in the East and breaking Cleveland’s hold on the conference. The sobering realization must be sinking in amongst the team, the way we’ve slowly come to grips with it.
They are not what we thought they were.