Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
Could the Wizards end up Top 4 in the East? How’d that happen?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: In the East, if you’re above .500, you’re a contender for a top-4 seed, and the Wizards’ whole season has been about breaking above .500. It dates to last season, when coach Randy Wittman‘s marching orders were basically to be .500 in games in which point guard John Wall was available. They nearly did it, going 24-25 with Wall and 5-28 without him. The urgency got dialed up coming into this season, with jobs on the line if there wasn’t more progress. Trevor Ariza has been a valuable piece this season, Marcin Gortat has been the upgrade Washington needed, rookie Otto Porter basically is a bonus player after missing so much of the season’s first half and Wittman has done a good job with the defense and in cobbling together a rotation from young, overlapping parts. But the Wizards’ greatest asset is its backcourt, Wall and Bradley Beal – skilled and as promising as any in the league.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If they keep playing the kind of solid team defense that’s held down the Suns, Warriors, Thunder and Blazers over the past several weeks, it’s not out of the question, which is how the Wizards are over .500 for the first time since 2009. They’ve got the best point guard in the East in John Wall running the show and the rest of the roster seems to finally be coalescing around him. However, while they are within arm’s reach of Atlanta right now, let’s hold off any certain judgment until they can stay above .500 for a couple of weeks.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Let’s consult the standings: Hmm, yes, the Wiz are No. 5 and although just one game over .500 they’re closing in on No. 3 Atlanta. Yes, by golly, the Wiz can get a top-four playoff spot! How did it happen? This is the East we’re talking about here. At the same time it is nice to see the team heading up instead of drowning like Cleveland or Detroit. I’m happy for coach Randy Wittman, who could have already been fired, but wasn’t. They’ve got health now and, look, this is a nice starting five. John Wall has a case to be the East’s starting point guard over Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal is dangerous and the front line with Nene and Marcin Gortat can be pretty formidable. There’s not much depth, but this group, in this conference, is top-four material.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Because they play in the East. That’s how it happened. A two-game winning streak puts anyone in contention for home-court in the playoffs. Beyond that as the obvious, this always had the potential to be a postseason team. Getting John Wall and Bradley Beal together on the court is imperative. And while it doesn’t get a lot of attention, the Marcin Gortat acquisition has paid off.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It happened because teams 3-15 in the East aren’t very good. Really, whether the Wiz get a top-four spot is as much about the rest of the conference as it is about them. Will the Raptors trade Kyle Lowry? Can the Bulls keep Joakim Noah healthy? Will the Hawks keep hanging on? Have the Nets really gotten their act together? Throw in the Wiz and you should have five teams fighting for the 3 and 4 spots, with one of them stuck playing the Heat in the first round. Washington has been a top-five defensive team since Jan. 1, which is a good sign for them going forward. And of that group, they’ve played the second toughest schedule so far (behind only Toronto). At worst, they should finish fifth.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Wizards could actually be good enough in the Eastern Conference this season. So could the Toronto Raptors … Brooklyn Nets … Atlanta Hawks … or Chicago Bulls. That’s just the nature of the East this year. The Wizards are in that mix immediately after the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, and they have the talent to challenge for that top-four spot in the playoff chase. They need to find a way to stay above .500, now that they’ve finally gotten there. And they need to stay healthy down the stretch of this season. How they got here starts with a defensive-minded group that has been a constant the past couple of years and ends with the arrival of John Wall the All-Star and a supporting cast that has finally grown comfortable with him as their leader. Sustainability is the name of the game in Washington now.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Watching the Wizards this season, I keep going back to the long conversation I had over the summer with John Wall. For a guy who had mostly been up and down the first few years of his career, Wall sounded completely focused. On that day he convinced me that he was the guy to lead the Wizards into the postseason. Of course, I didn’t know the rest of the Eastern Conference was going to become the Leastern Conference, easing the path for the Wiz to get to the top of the Conference.
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I think the Wizards will make the playoffs, but they won’t get home-court advantage. Since they don’t play in the Atlantic Division, they’d have to pass the Hawks to get it and I don’t think that will happen. The Wizards depend too much on how John Wall plays, while — at least for now — the Hawks are a better overall team.
Adriano Albuquerque. NBA Brasil: They became the team that they were supposed to be in the beginning of the season. The players-only meeting and Nene’s message about “taking their heads out of their butts” worked, brought them back to Earth, and now they’re ready to soar again. John Wall is playing as the best point guard in the East (besides Kyle Lowry), Bradley Beal keeps on showing improvements in his sophomore year, Trevor Ariza came back in the same beat he was early in the season, Martell Webster is contributing, Nene is playing well on both sides of the court, and even Jan Vesely turned into a decent bench player. Yes, they will definitely compete with Atlanta for the non-division champion home-court advantage.
Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think the more important point is that even if the Wizards don’t get home-court advantage, they could still win the first round in the 2014 postseason. Really, any of the teams between 3 to 6 in the East could end up beating the other. But the Wizards were always primed to do well this season with their mix of young talent and veteran presence on the team. A few reasons for their slow start could have been playing 15 of their first 26 on the road, where they earned a 12-14 record and their inability to close out clutch games. They are only 2-5 in games that have gone into overtime.