Wizards Playoff Preview: Setting the Stage for the Future
Most experts believe the Eastern Conference champion will be either the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers. This has been their belief since the beginning of the year and because of that it seems most are overlooking the rest of the conference. That’s too bad. They have missed out on the fabulous story of the Washington Wizards.
The Wizards come into this playoff season as a team on the rise whereas the rest of the top teams in the East have either peaked or are in decline. With the Wizards locking up John Wall in a long term deal, they may have the most to gain in this year’s playoffs.
You know John Wall right? This has really been a break out, star making year for the former Kentucky Wildcat. With his stats at 19.6 PPG and 8.7 APG combined with his show stealing All Star Weekend Dunk Contest win, Wall has propelled himself into the top tier of NBA point guards both in on court performance and marketing appeal. That can pay huge dividends for the Wizards going forward in recruiting free agents and resigning current players, like Bradley Beal. Whereas the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets are designed to win now with aging players and the Indiana Pacers seem to have maxed out their potential, the Wizards are looking like the team of the future. But first they’ll need to make a statement. An impressive showing in the playoffs could be just want they need to put them over the top.
As things stand now, the Wizards will face the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs and it is highly likely the Wizards win that series. The Wizards won 2 of the 3 games played against the Bulls this season and really provide a match-up nightmare in a series against Chicago. This is because the strength of the Wizards plays directly against the weakness of the Bulls, and that is guard play. I don’t mean that to be too much of a knock against the Bulls trio of guards but they just don’t compare to the dynamic duo of Bradley Beal and John Wall. This means the Bulls will have to look to the front court for more production. With Coach Thibodeau’s demanding high pressure approach to the regular season, the Bulls big men are often worn down by the time the playoffs start. Not a situation you want to be in against Washington. Their front court guys are no scrubs. Gortat has really come into his own since his arrival in Washington and should do well matching up with Joakim Noah down on the block.
But make no mistake this series, and the Wizards playoff run, is going to come down to the play of Beal and Wall. The Wizards’ back court is as athletic and explosive as any in the NBA, so expect to see the Bulls guards chasing more than defending in this series. Wall should have no problem getting to the basket for easy finishes or a drop pass to Gortat. With Wall’s improved outside shot and if Beal is able to knock down his mid-range jumper, the Wizards will be able to break down any defensive scheme the Bulls come up with.
I don’t believe the Wizards are NBA title contenders just yet but a series win could propel the Wizards into the spotlight and with the supportive fans of the Nation’s Capital, should set the stage for their ascendance into the top tier of NBA teams. With their youth and talent they should be able to maintain that standing for many years to come.
Update: The Toronto Raptors have taken over the 3rd spot in the East and are now a likely opening round opponent for the Wizards. The Raptors won the season series with the Wizards 3 games to 1 and are a more difficult opponent than the Bulls would be due to the Raptors athleticism. While I still believe that the Wizards have the talent and ability to win a series against Toronto, it will take a more well rounded team effort to do so. Wall will still be looked to to lead the team, as he should, but Gortat and Nene will have to shoulder more of the offensive load in order to get past the Raptors. Trevor Ariza’s contribution on the wing will become vital to free up Beal on the outside. Defensively the Wizards will be tested more on against the Raptors than the Bulls and what impact that will have on their offensive energy will be important.
Overall, I think the Wizards are the better team right now and should be able to get past either the Bulls or Raptors and make it to the 2nd round.