I also learn these things about the Washington Wizards in the pregame period: our dedicated rap song is not very good (over-reliance on airhorn), our lady correspondent seems peppy but also a little over the tanktop and mini skirt, and our cheerleaders wear disappointingly un-magical costumes (where are the little silver sparkly capelets? How about this?) and lack any trace of the otherworldly in their dance moves. Also, they are called the “Washingirls” which has nothing to do with Wizards and is actually kind of insulting? Do they also double as the towel girls? Get it together, Wizards franchise.
Taking in the Wolves as they warm up on the court, I notice a small guy, and for a moment I am transported to Hoosiers. He just looks so little and pasty and young from this vantage point, like they invited a gifted high school kid to intern with them for the day. This, I am to discover, is Luke Ridnour, and the lesson here is clear: my first impressions are garbage! I will say that one impression remained even after I learned that Ridnour was actually a seasoned player with impressive stats, not a lucky high school contest winner: he seemed way more eager than most of the players on the court. He was hustling his Hoosier heart out out there (What is with the Hoosiers reference? He is not from Indiana!, you say. You are right. But I need the movie references, my new friends). Throughout the game, Ridnour was blazingly quick, serving up beautiful assists, leading some really elegant plays, actually passing the ball (something I found to be surprisingly rare) and just being where he needed to be.
He did run into some foul trouble in the 4th quarter, but overall, I was taken with his ability to make the game seem like a skillful team endeavor instead of a collection of individual opportunities (not that he didn’t have those too, mind you). I thought he was the young star of the game, and was later shocked to find that he’s older, and considered more of a journeyman than a breakout star. To me, Luke Ridnour will always be a star; a big, bright shining star!
As the teams get ready for tipoff, Wolf Blitzer appears on the Jumbotron to report on “The Situation” with the Washington Wizards and the Minnestota Timberwolves. He really doesn’t do much reporting on this issue, and I am once again disappointed in the shallowness of cable news coverage these days. Dig a little deeper, Wolf! What I do learn is that the Wizards ‘one to watch’, Nick Young, is out with the flu, which has also felled the Wolves’ Martell Webster. Thanks, Wolf!
The Timberwolves are introduced to literally NO applause. It’s shocking to me that there seems to be no Wolves contingent here– so few people are actually from Washington; I thought there would be some Minnesota transplants representing. This reception begins a cold night for the Timberwolves, who are given nothing but scorn and derision all night long, while a blue muppet with no discernible Wizard talents or features is celebrated. Strange times we live in, friends.
The lights go down, some ridiculous Lord of The Rings type music fills the arena, and a huge fire blast erupts from the Wizards wand! We all flee the burning Verizon Center! Just kidding, this is how they introduce all the Wizard players; a big old blast of fire for every player. The Gandalf music is replaced with something from the mortal realm, and I get ready to see some amazing dancing: I am really looking forward to the fire that is the fabled “dougie.” JaVale McGee has some swagger, but John Wall gives us nothing but one tiny head rub. Boo, John Wall, boo to you.
The Wizards have a whole ‘stand until we score’ thing, and the fans remain standing for an uncomfortable amount of time while the Wolves score and the Wizards miss some easy early shots. I wonder how long fans would actually stand and wait for the Wizards to score? I guess this is what separates the fans from the Superfans? The standing is finally broken by the Wizards’ Andray Blatche, who slams his first of many big dunks. Blatche’s big dunks abound.
About 3 minutes in, Nikola Pekovic is fouled and prepares for his free throws. Obviously we’re all familiar with the home court advantage, but the difficulty of winning in someone else’s house was made very real for me last night. Because my God, did the Wizards fans try and make it impossible for the Wolves. The sound that erupts while a player attempts his free throws just does not translate on TV– the ENTIRE Verizon Center seemed intent on destroying Pekovic with the power of their derision. It was very, very intense, and I was frankly amazed that Pekovic was able to get one out of two.
I know you are probably mad/sad/disappointed in your Wolves, friends, but I assure you, they were up against horrible monsters of Wizard fandom. There was a drunk dude who decided he was going to just heckle Beasley all night long, and though he was ACROSS the arena, everyone could hear him. Just saying, this is what the Wolves were up against, and they played admirably in spite of it.
The Wolves took off quickly, with my little Hoosier (I know, I know, I’m sorry) Ridnour landing a beautiful floating jump shot, then stealing the ball and getting it to Love for a gorgeous running lay-up; I begin to fall in love with the Wolves. In the second quarter, though Blatche continues to dominate for the Wizards, the Wolves seem to be playing some fine basketball– Jonny Flynn is ridiculously fast, Love lands a 3 pointer then scores again with an assist from Ridnour. It’s all looking so good and then…it occurs to me that there are some great plays that are lacking in, how do you say, completion? Execution? They’re passing the ball fantastically well, then not actually scoring? Still, at the half, the Wolves lead 51-49.
An aside on some of the quarter and halftime entertainments. At the first quarter, there’s a video segment wherein your Washington Wizards try to name the artist for “My Heart will Go On” from Titanic, and Nick Young thinks it is the music from The Lion King, whereas Kevin Seraphin gets this huge smile on his face and says “Saayleen Deeeon!” with the happiest of French accents. French Guinea in the house! The mascots run out and make like they are going to throw free Chipoltle burritos at people. Instead, they end up passing them out, which I think is a missed opportunity– who doesn’t want burritos lobbed at their heads? A local High School pep band comes out, which gives me the opportunity to ponder why adults always insist on visiting hellishly unflattering khakis on teenage band kids.
At the 3rd quarter break, the Wizards’ Josh Howard (not playing) is asked a series of questions on the jumbotron, and seems intent on alienating the Washington audience, which I appreciate. Orioles or Nationals, they ask. Mets, he answers. Maryland or Virginia? Delaware. Awesome, Josh Howard, I like you and your contrarian ways. Also, during the “fist pump camera”, one man makes some amazing ‘pumping’ gestures that are not of the fist variety, and the parents seated near him look horrified.
But back to the game. Oh, the 4th quarter, Wolves fans, it was not pretty. Things were pretty much going apace, staying close, and then the Wizards’ Trevor Booker, who had been struggling with that stomach thing during the first half, came out of nowhere and remade the game in a matter of a minute. He landed two huge, fat, time-stopping dunks, and seemed to wake up the team and the audience (who had perhaps been lulled into a burrito daze). Wall scores, Evans drops a three, Kevin Love misses a layup; at that point, it was kind of over. The crowd became enthralled, the energy shifted, it all became insurmountable.
I left the arena for the press area behind a media-guy who was trying to get two very drunk, non-credentialed groupie girls back to the locker rooms (with no success, sorry creepy pimp reporter). I hung out in the now empty press room for a few minutes, thinking about whether I wanted to go visit the Wolves in their locker room. I decided not to. Because in the end, Wolf men and women, I didn’t have the heart to bother them. I had fallen in love with your Wolves, and it broke my heart to see them lose. So I left them with their dignity (and maybe the groupies? Who knows?), grabbed a (free!) doughnut, nodded to an exhausted Washing-girl, and slipped out the secret doors into the night, flummoxed by some very malevolent Wizards and the spell they had cast over the noble Timberwolves.