Beating the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night was a bit tougher than the Washington Wizards probably expected it to be. (That tends to be the case when a tank battalion has a collective out-of-body experience enabling it to make 15 consecutive shots during the third quarter.) But the Wiz got it done, riding big fourth quarters from All-Star point guard John Wall and reserve swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. to a 119-108 victory that improved them to 46-28 on the season.
That gave Washington an eight-game lead over the Atlanta Hawks in the Southeast Division. The Hawks only have eight games left to play, and the Wizards already own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Atlanta, having beaten them three times in four meetings this season. And that means …
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) March 29, 2017
… the Washington Wizards have won their division for the first time since the then-Washington Bullets won the Atlantic Division all the way back in 1978-79. That’s 38 flippin’ years ago, and that was the longest divisional drought of any team in major North American sports, according to CSN Mid-Atlantic:
No one has waited longer in the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB, and both the WNBA and MLS were not formed until the 1990s.
The L.A. Clippers previously held that distinction until they won the Pacific Division in the 2012-13 season after a 42-year wait. They repeated to win it the next year, as well. When the [Golden State] Warriors won the Pacific Division in 2014-15, that broke a 39-year drought.
The Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL were recently just behind the Wizards in their quest. They began as a franchise in the 1979-80 season and didn’t win one until they took the Pacific Division in 2011-12 after waiting 32 years. The longest current drought in the NHL is the Edmonton Oilers, who last won in 1986-87, 30 years ago. They are actually just two points out of first this season in the Pacific Division with seven games to go.
The longest division championship drought in the NFL is the Cleveland Browns, who won 28 years ago in 1989. In MLB, the longest division drought is held by the [Pittsburgh] Pirates at 25 years.
Earning an exit from that list — and locked in a top-four seed, guaranteeing the Wiz home-court advantage in the opening round of the 2017 playoffs — might not be worth breaking out the bubbly.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said prior to the game, according to Candace Buckner of the Washington Post, before joking: “Shall we break out the goggles?”
But it did merit some kind of celebration …
— Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) March 29, 2017
… because, regardless of whether or not divisions mean anything in today’s NBA, 38 years is a long freaking time to go without winning one. Finally doing so means this year’s Wiz have passed one milestone on the road to legitimacy and respectability. Now, it’s time to pass all the other ones. From the Post’s Dan Steinberg:
“It’s great, man,” John Wall said on CSN after the game. “I’ve been here for seven years; it feels like I’ve been here my whole life. We haven’t accomplished a lot of things. This is something that’s exciting for the city, just the start to where we want to be. Hopefully they can enjoy it. Hopefully we put a banner up for it, because it hasn’t happened in so long. But we’ve got bigger goals that we’re trying to reach.” […]
“It’s a steppingstone,” said Phil Chenier, who played for that 1979 division champ. “Winning the division title, getting to 50 wins, getting past the second round. All those things are on the path to greatness, [toward] doing the things that you hope to do eventually.” […]
“The next goal is to get 50 wins,” Bradley Beal said in the wee hours. “There’s a bunch of things that we’re trying to accomplish. We know the fans, that’s something that they want and that’s something that they deserve. They’ve been looking forward to a good team in the city for a long time. We’ve put that together. Now we owe it to them.”
Next up for Wall, Beal, Brooks and the Wiz: getting that elusive 47th win. No Washington team has eclipsed 46 Ws since — you guessed it — the 1978-79 Bullets went 54-28 en route to their second straight NBA Finals appearance. The Wizards enter Wednesday’s marquee matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers at 46-28, giving them eight more chances to hit that mark.
Do that and you can take aim at 50. Take care of business in a Round 1 matchup against, um, someone — only three games separate the fifth-seeded Hawks and the ninth-seeded Chicago Bulls right now, and Washington’s just a game up on the Toronto Raptors, who hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Wiz, so who that first-round opponent will be is anybody’s guess — and you can get within arm’s reach of the conference finals for the first time since (sing it with me) 1979.
Get there, and if Wall’s dealing at hyperspeed and Beal’s knocking down shots, anything can happen … including, perhaps, a locker-room shower with some higher-priced bottles than the ones in use at Staples Center on Tuesday.
“Hopefully it’s all water and not sparkling water,” Brooks joked after the game.
All in due time, coach. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and “breaking the longest divisional title drought in American sports” is as good a place to start as any.
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