Wednesday was not only Hump Day this past week in the DMV, but also “winner’s night.” The Wizards, Nationals, and Capitals were all in action and all came away with victories. The ‘woe is me group’ must have not known what to do with themselves. You know the group I’m talking about. The one that likes to tell you, “this is the worst sports town EVER!,” and, “No one EVER wins!”
Sure, there is no denying that the town has not seen a major championship since the Redskins 1991 season, but there are worse places. The Caps and Wizards are post-season bound. The Nationals are the ‘team to beat,’ and the Redskins…let’s try to keep this a positive piece. They hired a real GM! It’s a step in the right direction at least.
This week’s 3 points blog focuses on the Wizards’ ‘improved play’, Capitals’ Iron Man, and the Nationals’ rocky start.
Wizards Win Streak Fools Gold?
The Wizards suddenly no longer look like “peaked in high school Rob Lowe.” No, they look like a team who still has their best basketball ahead of them this season. The problem is, they have not exactly been playing the NBA’s best during the 4-game win streak. Two wins over the 76ers, one over the awful Knicks, and yes – a big road win at Memphis.
To be fair to the Wizards, they have done much of their damage against the NBA’s worst without their full roster. Nene and Paul Pierce have missed significant time and John Wall got the night off at Philly Wednesday.
Despite the lack of competition, there have been plenty of encouraging signs. The offense as a whole has been more efficient with the improved play of Marcin Gortat, Drew Gooden and Ramon Sessions. And most importantly, Bradley Beal has been healthy and productive. Can this carry over into the post season? The Wizards will need it too if they are going to at least make it into the second round.
One of the many questions about the Wizards right now is, “Are they better off without Nene?” I would say NO. Although Gooden has helped space the floor and is an active offensive rebounder, the Wizards will need Nene’s playmaking skills and touch in the half court. He also helps clog the lane. It might not be crazy to think about bringing Nene off the bench and keeping Gooden with the 1st unit, since Gortat seems to be in such a good rhythm right now.
However, the biggest key for the post season is the reemergence of Beal. He’s been a missing ingredient on many nights during this injury-slowed season. In the playoffs, it becomes more of a half-court game, and if Beal can knock down 3’s and take them on a more consistent basis, it will open up the floor for the Wizards offense.
With 4 regular-season games left, the Wizards are the #5 seed (again), and would play the Toronto Raptors in the 1st round. The Raptors swept the Wizards in the regular season, but they have not been the same team recently, thanks in part to injuries to Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson. They could also move up the 3-spot and get the Bucks with a strong finish and some help. However, it will most be a 4-5 matchup with either Toronto or Chicago.
Next week we will take matchups, once the schedule is finalized.
The Capitals team MVP may not be Alex Ovechkin this year. That is not a typo. Sure the Great 8 may be having his best overall season as a two-way player under Barry Trotz. He has a really good shot at winning his 4th Hart trophy.
However, where would this team be without Braden Holtby?
The Caps 25-year old netminder has started 72 of the 81 games so far this season and leads the NHL in shutouts with 9 on the season. Holtby is tied for the best save percentage in the NHL and has the 5th best goals against average at 2.21.
However, one concern moving into the playoffs is whether or not Holtby will be able to hold up. Well at least it’s a concern for those on the outside. Here’s what Holtby told CSN Washington.
“I like playing,” Holtby said Wednesday night after becoming the first goaltender in NHL history to sweep a season series against the Bruins without allowing a goal. “It’s the reason we play hockey. I like to be able to play a lot, but at the same time you don’t want to get complacent.
“I want to make sure I’m prepared for every single one of them. That’s something I pride myself on, my mental game. It’s what’s gotten me to this level and I like challenging myself.”
Holtby and the improved blue line are two of the big reasons so many feel comfortable saying this won’t be the same old Caps come playoff time this year.
Is the Nationals Offense still an Issue?
Let me quote Aaron Rodgers: ‘R-E-L-A-X’, the Nationals will be ok. Sure they lost their first series of the season to a division rival in the NY Mets, and yes they couldn’t hit in the clutch, and Ian Desmond has 3 errors already. All these things are not good, but they have 159 games to fix them.
Also worth mentioning: this is not anything close to the teams real lineup yet. Denard Span, Anthony Rendon, and Jayson Werth are missing from the lineup. And for those of you scoring at home, that would be the 1-2-3 hitters. I don’t care what team we are talking about, if you take away the top of the order it will make scoring runs extremely challenging.
The Nationals will be just fine thanks to a great starting staff that will keep them from prolonged slumps. Once again this week, Jordan Zimmermann reminded us why he’s going to be missed if he truly walks at the end of the season. As usual, he was a bulldog in the 2nd game of the series after waiting out a rain delay on a damp cold night. Max Scherzer was strong on opening day despite the lack of run support and defensive support. I guess we could call Stephen Strasburg shaky after the Desmond error, but he didn’t get rocked. They were soft hits/unlucky hits that did him in.
Next up is Gio Gonzalez who is looking to have a big year being completely healthy again. Then you have the always steady Doug Fister. The Nationals are too talented this year not to be in contention. Yes, it would have been nice to win it wire-to-wire, but just R-E-L-A-X. They will be just fine.