Sunday’s game in Atlanta was ugly for the Wizards, losing by 31 points to the NBA’s ‘it’ team, the Hawks. YES the Atlanta Hawks are legit. They play “team ball” and everyone can shoot. They have won 10 in a row and are 31-8, sitting atop the Eastern Conference. So losing to the Hawks is no longer reason for shame, but losing by 31 had many wondering if the Wizards were able to compete with the league’s elite.
The sports world has a short memory because just two days before, the Wizards handled the Chicago Bulls rather nicely at Verizon Center (102-86). The Wizard had a challenging week ahead with a home game against the Spurs, then a rematch with the Bulls on the road.
The first test would be exorcising a 17-game losing streak to the Spurs. The Wizards pulled away from the defending Champions in a 101-93 win at Verizon Center, led by MVP candidate John Wall. However, the star of the night may have Kevin Seraphin who scored 17 points and pulled down 8 rebounds off the bench. He scored 11 of the 17 in a crucial 4th quarter stretch.
No time to celebrate. The Wizards needed to catch a plane to Chicago to face the Bulls again. On a night where Derrick Rose (32pts) couldn’t miss, the Wizards found a way to protect their “home away from home” court at United Center in a 105-99 win. The Wizards have won 5-straight in Chicago dating back to last season’s 5-game series win over the Bulls. Paul Pierce led the way with 22 points and Wall was a stud once again, scoring 21 and handing out 9 assists. It was also the second straight game Nene neutralized Pau Gasol who was just 4-11 from the floor.
After the back-to-back wins, the Wizards head into tonight’s first of two against the Brooklyn Nets as the 2nd best team in the East (27-12), 4 back of the red-hot Hawks. The Wizards have been a steady team thus far, keeping themselves towards the top of the East. They suffered a 3-game skid with losses at Dallas, Oklahoma City, and San Antonio. However, they have avoided any prolonged funks thus far.
Sure, the two losses to Atlanta are disheartening, but the regular season is not the same as the playoffs. In order to advance, it takes winning a 7-game series and Atlanta doesn’t possess the “go to guy” that the NBA usually requires in the playoffs. Maybe they are going to prove to be like the Pistons of 2004.
The Wizards actually have some successful playoff experience to lean on from last year getting into the Semi-Finals. The Hawks lost in round one to the Pacers and the Raptors the same to the Nets. That’s not to say both those teams can’t or won’t get over the hump this year. But there is NO one the Wizards should fear.
Clearly the Wizards have done well, beating up the Big Bad Bulls that everyone wanted to crown in the preseason. Sure, Chicago has to yet to be completely healthy. The Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be a hot mess, but you would think Lebron could save them eventually. I mean he is ‘The King,’ right? There is no Miami Heat in the East anymore (I mean, yes – they ARE in the East, but not the team that went to 4 straight finals).
The Wizards still have plenty of room to grow, especially on offense where the execution and pace could improve. Martell Webster is still trying to find his legs, and once he does should give the team some needed range from the 3-point line. If he can’t, they have flexibility to search other options after releasing Glen Rice Jr. Maybe Ray Allen will wake up and want to rejoin Pierce for another title run, but if he doesn’t that’s ok too.
The Wizards roster has no major holes. They have a stable of big players like no other team. They still have not been able to get Drew Gooden in the rotation or DeJuan Blair. Wall is playing at an all-star level and Bradley Beal has yet to take off offensively this season on a consistent basis. They don’t shoot a ton of 3’s but they shoot a real high percentage-best in the NBA, and that’s ok because they have actual post players. Sorry, analytics geeks.
In a season that started with dreams of Kevin Durant in two years there is really no need to wonder and wait on this team. They are in the race right now and if they can stay healthy they could win the wide open East.