Culture of Hoops

The Wonderful Wizards of D.C.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

The No. 1 seeded Atlanta Hawks face the Brooklyn Nets in a pivotal Game 5 tonight in Atlanta. Now, that’s a sentence you wouldn’t have thought you’d be reading two months ago.
Here, this might be another: The Wizards are waiting for the winners.
Yes, that’s right, after a two month disappearing act during the regular season that Drew Gooden III described as “cruise control” mode, the Wizards have returned to the conversation after the decimating the Toronto Raptors in four games.
Right now, they’re the most problem-free team in the East and have set themselves up for a successful tilt to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Just think about it for a second. The Cavaliers, despite sweeping the Boston Celtics, are facing questions too. Losing Kevin Love for the rest of the playoffs really stings. On top of that, J.R. Smith‘s two-game suspension hurts a team with already questionable depth.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have failed to close out the series twice against the Young Bucks.
And we’ve also already mentioned the Hawks, who have lost some of their Spursian offensive mojo that was so potent during the regular season.
And then there’s the Wizards.
Yes, the Washington Wizards, who went sub .500 from the All-Star Break and stumbled into the postseason are the most worry-free Eastern Conference team right now.
Randy Wittman‘s Wizards!
Of course, the Raptors didn’t prove to be the toughest of opponents but over the course of the series the Wizards rounding themselves into form.
However, the Wizards didn’t beat the Raptors once in three starts during the regular season. Was this an anomaly? No. A seven-game series is designed to avoid such a thing. The Wizards swept the Raptors. They annihilated them.
So what happened? Well, it helps that the Raptors couldn’t stop John Wall who proved his superstar credentials on the big stage. The lynchpin of the Wizards defense terrorised fellow Eastern Conference backcourt All-Star Kyle Lowry into laying four consecutive eggs. Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, John Wall dropped dimes like he had a hole in his pocket. He recorded a double-double in game four, shot only five times and didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
Credit to the Wizards for also (finally) adapting to the times and changing their offensive philosophy. Wittman finally yielded to the three-point shot and slid Paul Pierce over to power forward (a position he’s played fantastically in the later stages of his career). On top of that he exclusively used Drew Gooden III off the bench as the back-up big. That’s Drew Gooden III who was unemployed 18 months ago and out of the league that’s now reinvented himself as an effective stretch-4. Amazingly, he shot 7-14 from three point land in the series.
The new-look Wizards gives John Wall (and to a lesser extent Bradley Beal) more room to penetrate. With a point guard as dynamic as Wall, driving and dishing with shooters hitting shots the Wizards are tough to stop. Not only did the new-look help spread the floor for Wall, but also Marcin Gortat. Indeed, the Polish Hammer was dominant in the series. Gortat was fairly dominant in this series. The Raptors had no way to defend him off of the pick-and-roll. He shot nearly 75 percent from the field in the series. That’s insane. He averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 blocks per game.
Otto Porter has grown into a serviceable jack-of-all-trades off the bench and “playoff” Beal has returned. The Wizards more than lost their way during the regular season, but they seem to have flicked a switch — or at least convinced themselves that they have.
In the end, success comes from more than just winning. It extends from timing, luck and a healthy dose of confidence. The Wizards had the luck of playing a team that was struggling even worse than they were in the first round but they also did their work and dealt with the Raptors easily. Now, brimming with confidence (with Paul Pierce stoking the fire) the Wizards await their next opponent.
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