July 23, 2014

Looking Back On The 2013-2014 Washington Wizards: The Dawning of a New Age in D.C.

Before the season, if you would have walked up to any Washington Wizards’ fan and told them that this team would get to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals before it was all over, you would have been met with many wide eyes and disbelieving shaking heads. With the recent history of the franchise, it would be hard to blame them. [Read more...]

Wizards vs Pacers Game 2 Preview: Is Bench Play A Concern For Washington?

In Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Washington Wizards handily defeated the Indiana Pacers 102-96. They may have been separated by just six points on the scoreboard, but Washington took care of business like professionals on Monday night.

When it comes to the playoffs, your keys to victory are fairly simple. When you’re the road team, you can’t let the hometown crowd get inside your head. You need to play within yourself. It’s important to play your game and not get outside your comfort zone.

For the Wizards, they did all of those things and more in Game 1. They out-rebounded Indiana by nearly 20 and the play from the front-court tandem of Nene and Marcin Gortat was simply incredible. The duo combined for 27 points and 21 rebounds. All the while, the largest man on the floor, Roy Hibbert, was kept in check during his 18 minuets of play.

Hibbert’s postseason woes continued in Game 1. Save for his two blocks and one assist, it was a pretty dismal performance not worthy of the $14.2 million that he’s making this year. Not only did the All-Star center fail to score a point, but he also didn’t grab a rebound.

Where does that leave us with our keys to victory, then? If the Wizards won in nearly every facet of the game, then why even write a Game 2 preview? Doesn’t it seem like they have this series well in hand? Do they not have a weakness?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The one place where the Wizards could fall victim to the Pacers lies simply within the box score (numbers never lie).

With the exception of 12 points and 13 rebounds from Drew Gooden, the Wizards’ bench was largely ineffective on Monday night. Together, they put up just 15 points, 14 rebounds, one assist and three turnovers. Collectively, the Wizards scored a net of -35 points with their bench. On the other side, Indiana found a spark from their bench that kept them in the game.

For the 15 seconds that the Pacers had the lead in the second quarter, you can attribute much of that to the bench. They scored 17 points in the first half and were responsible for their early-second quarter charge. Indiana’s bench scored 33 points and the team scored a net of just -15 points with their bench players.

By no means was either bench outrageously effective, but there’s no denying that Indiana’s certainly beat Washington’s. While the starting five for the Wizards were no match for Indiana’s, the bench for the Pacers allowed them to hang around. Had the Wizards not made nine straight free throws to end the game, Indiana could have stolen Game 1 from them.

It was a rather uncharacteristically slow night from Washington’s bench. Trevor Booker, a hero off the bench in the Wizards’ Game 5 victory over Chicago, recorded a mere assist and two turnovers in nine minutes of play. Martell Webster, who has been able to provide one-to-two three pointers a game this postseason, missed on his only shot attempt in 16 minutes.

For as good as the starting five has been this season, the bench has also been there to pick them up when they are down. While Nene was out with an injury for much of the second half of the regular season, it was Booker who stepped in and provided eight points and six rebounds in 45 starts.

Likewise, Andre Miller has been a suitable replacement off the bench for Bradley Beal or John Wall. In fact, in the regular season, Miller’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 14.6 was actually .3 points higher than Beal’s. At 15.0, Booker’s PER was even better than that.

Washington has a golden opportunity on Wednesday night to push their lead to two games over the Pacers and be in complete control for another attempt at a series sweep in D.C. Indiana appears to be a frustrated bunch, largely in part to their non-existent big man. According to reports, David West was quite frustrated with Hibbert following their Game 1 loss.

Wall, Beal, Trevor Ariza, Nene and Gortat will be physical and aggressive as always, but strong play from the bench in Game 2 would mentally take a toll on the Pacers. In their eyes, there would simply be no let-up in Washington’s game, and they would be on the defensive all night long.

With another strong performance in Game 2, Washington could head home with the Pacers wrapped around their finger. Tipoff is set for 7 PM EST in Indianapolis.

Wizards vs Pacers Game 1 Recap: Total Team Effort Leads To Victory For Washington

Despite several comeback attempts by the Indiana Pacers, the Washington Wizards secured early control of the Eastern Conference Semifinals with their fourth road win of the postseason, 102-96.

While the two teams were separated by just six points on the scoreboard, Indiana was only in front for a mere 15-seconds in the second quarter. Other than that, it was all Wizards, all the time.

Washington began the game on a roll and immediately made the hometown crowd a non-factor. Trevor Ariza nailed two of his game-high six three pointers within the first minute of the game to help lead the Wizards to an early 8-0 lead.

Behind 11 first-quarter points from Ariza, Washington found themselves up 28-15 entering the second quarter. As we’ve seen throughout the postseason, however, the Wizards have gotten into a bad habit of letting their opponents back into a game in the second quarter. As we saw Monday night, old habits die hard.

The Pacers started the quarter on a roll with a 14-2 run to take the lead 31-30 with 8:15 remaining in the period. As Washington was able to do throughout the contest, they responded with a run of their own to retake control. After trading shots over the next three minutes, the Wizards pulled away to end the half.

In the final five minutes of the first half, Washington closed on a 15-6 run to take a 56-43 halftime lead. Any sort of momentum that the Pacers had built, the Wizards had quickly taken away. Ariza and Bradley Beal combined to go 3-for-4 from behind the arc in the final push before halftime.

After building a 60-44 lead in the opening minutes of the second half, Indiana began to chip away at the Wizards’ lead. To finish off a third quarter in which the two teams combined for just 32 points, Lance Stephenson scored nine points in the quarter as the Pacers closed the lead to seven on an 18-9 run.

Once again, the Wizards responded. Thanks to two free throws from Drew Gooden (12 points, 13 rebounds) and a three from Andre Miller, Washington widened their lead to 12, 74-62. For much of the fourth quarter, it was a back and forth battle where the Wizards were able to match Indiana shot for shot.

With five minutes remaining, Washington had it’s largest lead of the half, 92-78. All things seemed to be going their way, especially after a technical fouled was assessed to Indiana’s David West. For a third time, however, Indiana began to claw their way back into the contest.

It wasn’t all due to an elevated level of play by the Pacers, unfortunately, as Washington made it’s fair-share of mistakes. Following West’s technical foul, Beal missed three free throws and the Wizards committed several turnovers. With just two minutes remaining, the Pacers were lurking down 10 points.

Washington struggled at the free throw line for much of the second half, but it was their ability to make their freebies in the clutch that iced the game. In the final minute, Indiana made four three pointers. While the Pacers were hot from behind the arc, the Wizards made their final nine free throws to stay out front and secure the victory.

The scoreboard doesn’t show just how much better the Wizards were on this night. Washington out-rebounded Indiana 53-36 and held the advantage in assists 23-16. They made 10 threes and shot 41.7-percent from the floor.

Possibly the biggest advantage for the Wizards was the biggest man of the floor, Roy Hibbert. In 18 minutes, Hibbert failed to score or grab a rebound and committed five fouls. In the paint for the Wizards, Nene and Marcin Gortat combined for 27 points and 21 rebounds (15 rebounds for Gortat).

The front-court battle was also won by the Wizards. While George Hill had 18 points, it’s important to note that six of those came in a meaningless final-minute rally. Paul George finished with 18 points, but Ariza bested that with 22 points of his own.

A new dynamic duo is forming in the NBA with Beal and Wall. Beal poured in a game-high 25 points, seven assists and five steals. While Wall scored just 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting, he recorded a game-high nine assists. Wall was the leader on the floor and Beal took advantage of the opportunities created by him.

Washington is a perfect 4-0 on the road in the playoffs and certainly didn’t seem phased by the Indiana faithful on Monday in their Game 1 victory. The series stays in Indiana for Game 2 on Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 PM EST.

Washington Wizards vs Indiana Pacers Game 1 Preview

On Monday night, the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers will go head-to-head in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup. Series features teams that seem almost opposite of each other.

On the one hand, you’ve got the youthful and energetic Wizards. On the other, you’ve got the question mark that is the Pacers. After dominating for much of the regular season, they slowed near the end, but still entered the playoffs as the number-one seed in the east. For the Wizards, they fought tooth and nail all season long for their fifth-seed.

The Pacers biggest asset, literally, has been seemingly invisible this postseason. After averaging 10.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in the regular season, 7-2 center Roy Hibbert has barely managed half that in the postseason. Defensively, he hasn’t been effective as his blocks and steals are half that of his regular season averages, as well.

That could very well be where the Wizards hold the upper hand in this matchup. While John Wall and Bradley Beal have been a back-court duo to be feared, the impact that Nene and Marcin Gortat can have on this series is undeniable. The Wizards’ big men have both seen a minutes increase in the postseason and they are making those minutes count.

Gortat has been averaging nearly a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds per game this postseason. His heart and hustle in the low-post has been very beneficial for Washington. In their series-clinching Game 5 win over the Chicago Bulls, Gortat grabbed 13 rebounds, a playoff-high for him.

Just as important, if not more important, has been the play of Nene. After scoring 24 points to lead the Wizards to their Game 1 victory in Chicago, Nene then cooled a bit to score 17 and 10 points in Games 2 and 3. After serving his one game suspension, Nene returned with a vengeance to drop 20 points, grab seven rebounds and dish four assists in the decisive Game 5.

The one player on the Pacers’ front-court that Washington will need to defend and defend well is David West. The 10-year veteran power forward is averaging 13.4 points per game this postseason, highlighted by a 24-point performance in Game 6 to stave off elimination. It’s also important to note that Hibbert did have a 13-point game in Game 7, so it should be interesting to see if that’s the start of something big for him.

For the Wizards, the fact that they got out of the first round is a shock to many. As highlighted by the team’s Twitter page shortly after their series victory, all but one of the experts at ESPN had Chicago winning that series. Much of Washington’s success, however, was due to their ability to eliminate home-court advantage.

The series will open up in Indiana, but Washington has proven that playing on the road doesn’t phase them. They are 3-0 on the road this postseason and outscored the Bulls 278-261 in Chicago. That is no small task in front of the playoff atmosphere you usually find from the hometown crowd.

The last time the Wizards made the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, they were swept by the Miami Heat in 2005. If you want to find their last berth in the conference finals, then you need to go all the way by to 1979 when they eventually lost to the then Seattle Supersonics in the NBA Finals.

The second round of the playoffs start Monday night. Tipoff for Game 1 is set of 7 PM EST in Indiana.

Nene Leads Wizards Past Bulls in First Round of Eastern Conference Playoffs

With Nene back in their lineup, the Washington Wizards defeated the Chicago Bulls 75-69 in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Playoff series to advance to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Nene established himself early on for the Wizards in the closeout game. After his ejection in Game 3 rendered him suspended for Game 4, he returned with a vengeance on Tuesday night. He made his presence felt early for Washington and flexed his muscle throughout the game.

In the midst of a back and forth battle between the two teams, the big Brazilian registered his first of six first-quarter points just a few minutes in. For a couple of teams that have thrived off of their defensive play this season, there wasn’t much of it from Washington and Randy Wittman took a timeout with 4:58 left. After the timeout, the Wizards began to turn up the heat.

Thanks in part to four points off the bench from Trevor Booker, the Wizards closed out the quarter on a 10-5 run to take a 23-15 lead into the second quarter. Washington shot an impressive 55-percent from the floor while the Bulls shot an uninspired 26-percent. The crowd was out of the game and everything looked to be going the Wizards’ way.

In the second quarter, it was an entirely different game. After shooting a low percentage in the first quarter, Chicago couldn’t miss in the second. At one point, Washington found themselves on the wrong end of a 21-9 run. Thanks to a John Wall and-1 in the final minute, the Wizards survived the second quarter surge to be tied with the Bulls 41-41 at the half.

Washington then came out of the gate strong for the third quarter and relied on Nene to carry them. Washington outscored Chicago 20-11 in the period and eight points were from Nene. While the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah tried his best, he was no match for the Wizards’ big man.

As Washington took a 61-52 lead into the fourth quarter, it became clear early on that the Bulls weren’t going away quietly in front of the hometown crowd. Chicago opened up the quarter on a 7-4 run including an and-1 play from Taj Gibson. Just minutes after he made the play, Gibson was removed from the game with an ankle injury.

The Wizards struggled to shoot the ball in the fourth quarter (just 5-of-18), but was able to fall back on heart and hustle to win the game. Booker, Marcin Gortat and Nene were all over the court winning the loose balls and creating second-chance opportunities. The trio combined for eight rebounds and countless hustle plays that won’t show up in the stat sheet.

Possibly the biggest play this season for the Wizards is one of those plays. With just over 16-second remaining, Andre Miller went to the line with an opportunity to make it a two-score game and all but seal the victory. He missed the first, and then following his miss on the second free throw, Nene back-slapped the ball out to Bradley Beal. Beal went on to sink his pair and seal the win.

Nene finished off the contest with 20 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists. Wall dropped a game-high 24 points and added just as many rebounds and assists as Nene. Beal poured in 17 points and Gortat led the Wizards with 13 rebounds. It was a total team effort as each man provided quality minutes.

Washington will now face the winner of the Indiana Pacers-Atlanta Hawks series. Currently, the eighth-seeded Hawks lead the top-seeded Pacers 3-2. On Thursday night, the two will face off in Indiana for Game 6 at 7 PM EST.

Wizards vs Bulls Game 5 Preview: Expect A Physical, But Focused, Washington Team

On Tuesday night in Chicago, the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls will add a fifth chapter to their epic NBA Eastern Conference Playoff series. After a convincing 98-89 win last Sunday, the Wizards are poised to win their first postseason series since 2005, the last time they faced Chicago in the playoffs.

After picking up the first two games of the series on the road, the Wizards then split their two-game home stint. The first home playoff game since 2008 was highlighted by Nene’s ejection for a scuffle with Chicago’s Jimmy Butler in the fourth quarter. While they were without the Brazilian for Game 4, they still picked up the victory in a rather authoritative manner.

Even though they found plenty of success without him, the Wizards are adamant that they need their big man back. After all, it was his 24 points and eight rebounds that propelled them to victory in Game 1.

“Of course we need him,” Marcin Gortat told reporters. “He’s a great basketball player. He’s so powerful and he dominates his position.”

As the series heads back to Chicago, the physical nature of this series will only intensify. With the exception of Nene’s ejection, it’s been the Bulls playing the role of aggressor. One area where they have really tightened things is up in the paint. They’ve adjusted to crash more on defense, especially when the ball finds Nene.

That kind of power and physicality that Nene brings to the floor is going to be ever more needed in what is expected to be an intense Game 5. Already this series, we’ve seen emotions run high. While the Wizards managed to win Game 2, it was certainly a hard fought victory.

“There’s going to be rabid fans [Tuesday], worse than it was in Game 2,” head coach Randy Wittman said. “It’s going to be all ramped up.”

As the Wizards are up 3-1 in the series, the odds certainly seem to be in their favor. Just eight teams have come back from being down 3-1 to win the series. For the Wizards, they’ve got a friendly reminder in their locker room to not fall victim to that.

“I’ve been in this situation before in Orlando being up 3-1 to Detroit,” said Drew Gooden referring to the Magic’s 2003 series with the Pistons. “We know that [Game 5] is a must win for us.”

Getting Nene back and heading on the road, a place where Washington has seemed pretty comfortable this postseason, certainly bodes well for the Wizards. It’s no secret that the Bulls will come scratching and clawing as their backs are against the wall.

At just 23-years of age and in his first ever elimination game in his brief three-year career, point guard John Wall is taking a veteran-like mindset to Tuesday night’s game. While it would be easy for a player with his inexperience to get caught up in the hype, the team leader is staying focused on the task at hand.

“You still haven’t done anything until you win four games,” Wall told reporters. “The main thing is to focus on what we’ve been doing and try to win.”

Wizards vs Bulls Game 3 Preview: 5 Keys to Victory for Washington

On Friday night at 8 PM EST in the Verizon Center, the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls will add a third chapter to their highly contested Eastern Conference Playoffs series.

This past Tuesday night, it took some late game heroics from young Bradley Beal to bring the Wizards to victory. Now up 2-0 in a playoff series for the first time since 1982, Washington has a chance to take a stranglehold on this series. If they want to do just that, here are their five keys to victory.

Key Number 1: Fast Start

The Wizards raced out to a 17-point lead on Tuesday night in Chicago and immediately took the hometown crowd out of it. This will be the first time since 2008 that D.C. has hosted an NBA playoff game, so you know the “Phone Booth” will be wild and crazy. A fast start will keep the crowd into the game and make things that much harder on the Bulls.

Key Number 2: Three-Point Shooting

If Game 3 comes down to which team shoots the three better, then Washington can win the game handily. In their explosive start to Game 2, they shot 5-of-8 from behind the arc. The Wizards made nine threes, including four from Beal, in their overtime win on Tuesday night. If they can continue to shoot well from downtown, they’ll take care of business.

Key Number 3: Make The Free Ones

After shooting 74 percent from the free throw line in Game 1, Washington managed just 57 percent in Game 2. Had they made their free throws in the second half, Tuesday’s would have never gone to overtime. If the Wizards can make the freebies, they should have no problem taking Game 3.

Key Number 4: Front-Court Play

After combining for 39 points and 21 rebounds in Game 1, the front-court duo of Nene and Marcin Gortat contributed just 24 points and 12 rebounds in Game 2. Luckily for Washington, the guard play was much improved and they picked up the slack. Nene played well in the first quarter and overtime of Game 2, but Washington will need him playing like he did in Game 1 for them to have their best shot at winning.

Key Number 5: Guard Play

Note that that doesn’t say back-court play, but rather guard play. More specifically, this is referring to John Wall and Beal. While they totaled 29 points in Game 1, Game 2 saw them pour in 44 points. As mentioned in key number four, the front-court struggled, but that back-court picked up the slack. If Beal and Wall can duplicate their Game 2 efforts Friday night, Washington should take care of business.

With a win on Friday night, the Wizards will have a chance to sweep Chicago out of the playoffs at home in Game 4. If they can take care of these five keys, then Sunday night’s game will be an exciting one for D.C as they’ll try to win their first playoff series since 2005.

Bradley Beal’s Late-Game Heroics Lift Washington Wizards To 2-0 Series Lead Over Chicago Bulls

After game one of the series saw the front-court duo of Nene and Marcin Gortat lead the Washington Wizards to victory, the back-court tandem of Bradley Beal and John Wall led the way to a dramatic 101-99 win in overtime to give Washington a 2-0 series lead over the Chicago Bulls.

Last Sunday, Beal and Wall combined for just 29 points. On Tuesday night, the young guards totaled 44 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. With Gortat and Nene struggling, it was clear the guards were going to have to win this game. For Beal, he took the game into his own hands late and shined.

Washington came out fast and made their first three shots to jump out to a 7-0 lead to start the game. At one point, the Wizards lead by 17, but took an 11 point lead into the second quarter. It was as good a quarter as we have seen all season and they had taken the crowd out of the game.

At the four-minute mark in the second quarter, Beal and Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich locked horns in an emotional moment that warranted double technicals. From that point forward, the game became much more physical. The once quiet hometown crowd came alive and the fight was on.

Along with a new-found intensity, Chicago also discovered quite the trio in D.J. Augustin, Taj Gibson and Hinrich. For the game, Augustin led with 25 points, but the trio poured in 59 points. In the second quarter, the Wizards didn’t have an answer for them defensively. With those three on the floor, the Bulls closed the lead to seven at halftime.

Throughout the regular season, the Wizards had a difficult time coming out of the locker room strong for the second half. On Tuesday night, they once again fell victim to that bad habit. Chicago outscored Washington 26-14 in the third quarter to take a five point lead into the final period.

Washington was then able to match Chicago’s intensity in a fourth quarter battle for the ages. With Nene, Wall and Beal all in foul trouble, everything seemed to be going the way of the Bulls. However, it was the Wizards’ youngest star that took the game over.

20-year old Bradley Beal dropped 11 fourth-quarter points to tie the game and force overtime. He showcased his wide array of skills by making two threes, but also finishing at the rim. While he did spoil a chance to take the lead in the final minute, it was his effort that gave Washington new life.

Washington jumped out to a 97-91 lead to begin the extra period thanks to six points from Nene. Trevor Booker and Wall then combined to go 4-for-4 from the free throw line to put the game just out of reach.

With two seconds remaining, Kirk Hinrich drove to the basket, guarded by Nene. Hinrich attempted a layup, but a foul was called on Nene, his sixth. The veteran Bulls’ guard then missed both free throws and Washington was able to secure the game winning rebound.

The Wizards now take a 2-0 lead in the series and head back to D.C. and hometown crowd at the Verizon Center. While it’s difficult for a team to comeback from being down 2-0, the past two games have been too closely contested to assume the Wizards can wrap it up at home.

The series now heads back to D.C. with the Wizards in control two games to none. Game three tips off in the Verizon Center on Friday night at 8 PM EST.

Washington Wizards Game 1 Recap: Wiz come back to beat Bulls on road

Behind 24 points from Nene and some timely veteran presence from backup point guard Andre Miller, the Washington Wizards came back from a 13-point third quarter deficit to beat the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup 102-93.

The Wizards outscored Chicago 30-18 in the fourth quarter.

Nene was a force all game, dominating in the paint and drilling medium range jumpers with equal ease. He grabbed eight boards and handed out three assists to lead the Wizards in every sense of the word.

Miller was outstanding in a reserve role. He entered in the third quarter while the Wizards were facing some of their deepest deficits and jump-started the comeback, slashing through the lane for a couple of easy layups and completely shutting down Bulls PG D.J. Augustine. Miller finished with 10 points in 13 minutes.

Trevor Ariza added 18 points and John Wall chipped in with 16. Wall was just 4-of-14 from the floor and Bradley Beal, who finished with 13 points, went 3-of-11. Marcin Gortat has 13 rebounds to go with 15 points.

Augustine and Kirk Hinrichs finished with 16 points apiece to pace Chicago.

The Wizards, ranked 25th in the league in free throw shooting, went to the line 35 times and made 26 but made all 12 of their fourth-quarter attempts. They were 12-for-19 in the first half.

Game 2 is Tuesday in Chicago at 9:35 pm ET.

Washington Wizards Game 81 Recap: Wiz Scorch Undermanned Heat

While the Miami Heat opted to sit LeBron James and Chris Bosh, the Washington Wizards seized the opportunity, recording one of their strongest offensive performances of the year in their 114-93 win Monday night at the Verizon Center.

The Heat essentially forfeited the top seed and home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs to the Indiana Pacers by sitting their star players, but Washington had no reservations about controlling the pace of the game.

“We’ve seen enough of these games where they haven’t played some of their guys and we lost,” said Wizards head coach Randy Wittman after the game. “Anytime you can get out and play… I thought the way we did from an offensive standpoint, moving forward, can’t hurt you.”

Washington led by as many as 36 points and shot 59 percent from the field. Trevor Ariza seemed to bounce back from his recent bout with the flu, leading the Wizards’ scoring with 25 points on the night.  Nene and Al Harrington added 18 and 16 respectively, while Bradley Beal and Marcin Gortat rounded out the double-digit club. [Read more...]

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