Where was this Wizards team all season?

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Wizards stay perfect on Chicago’s home court in playoffs

CHICAGO – In a span of two games, on the road in a tough building, the Washington Wizards have shifted the conversation from how their long-awaited taste of the postseason probably wouldn’t last more than one round to where the heck this team was all season.

When you look at what the Wizards have done in grabbing their 2-0 lead over the Chicago Bulls in the best-of-seven series and apply it to the 82 games that preceded this, it suddenly seems like their 44-38 record and certain middling stats (17th in offensive rating, 20th in rebounding, 25th in foul shooting) represent some shameful underachieving.

Consider some of the things they accomplished on their stay in the Windy City, which wrapped with the 101-99 overtime playoff nightcap:

  • Overcame a 13-point deficit in one of the most boisterous road gyms in the league to grab the series opener.
  • Toyed with Chicago’s vaunted defense at times, as in outscoring the Bulls 61-38 across the final quarter of Game 1 and the first 12 minutes of Game 2.
  • Kept their focus through some physical shenanigans first between Kirk Hinrich and Bradley Beal, later between Trevor Ariza and Joakim Noah, without getting intimidated or spinning out of control.
  • Clamped down defensively again when it mattered most. The Wizards limited Chicago to just 12 points, total, in the final six minutes of the two fourth quarters.
  • Squandered an early 17-point lead in Game 2, fell behind by 10 with seven minutes left, yet caught the Bulls with a 14-4 run to close regulation, Beal scoring nine of those Washington points.
  • Pressured Chicago just as hard at the end as they did at the beginning, limiting the home team to 2-for-9 shooting in the overtime while generating just enough offense of their own (Nene, six points)

Had the Wizards played that way all season, they might have, what … pushed toward 50 victories, which would have been good enough for the No. 3 seed? Put some heat on the Heat in the Southwest Division? Made life a lot easier on their coaches, their fans and themselves by locking up their postseason berth sooner, with a little less late-season drama?

Of course, this team isn’t that team. And vice-versa. The Wizards apparently had to go through the trials of their first 82 to prepare for the moments to which they’ve risen in Games 1 and 2.

“We’re a different team,” Ariza said. “We’re a team that learned from our mistakes. We’re learning to play hard and play through everything. Like tonight, the game, I guess, was a little chippy. We didn’t let that rattle us.”

Ariza, the small forward whose volunteer defensive work on the Bulls’ smaller shifty-quick D.J. Augustin helped to limit Chicago’s scoring options, continued: “We’re definitely more locked in. We’re paying more attention to detail in shootarounds and practice. We’re talking more – communication is a big part of being a good team. And our 1 [John Wall] and 2 [Beal], they’re maturing.”

The Wizards have gone from a 25-27 team at the All-Star break to that unpredictably dangerous bunch that Miami looks wise to avoid as long as possible. By slipping into the East’s No. 2 seed, the Heat kept Washington at bay as long as possible, the Bulls-Wizards winner due to face whichever team emerges from Pacers-Hawks.

Yes, it helps to have Nene healthy, back from his sprained left knee. And granted, tightening the screws on Chicago’s often-gasping attack isn’t the toughest task for a legitimate NBA defense. But somebody was out there sticking to the Bulls’ best weapons.

“That team is under the radar,” Bulls sixth man Taj Gibson said. “They’re a great defensive team. It shows, how poised they were come late [in the game].”

Late in the season, too. As recently as March, the Wizards were giving up 101.4 points per game. In April, that got whacked down to 92.9. Take away the overtime Tuesday and the Bulls have averaged 92.0 in the two games while shooting 42.6 percent. And Chicago has been nearly choked off at times, going six or seven minutes without a field goal.

Stacking up defensive stops like that has a cumulative effect, coach Randy Wittman said.

“It’s going to be easier even when we show ‘em the tape,” Wittman said. “When you get six, seven stops in a row when you’re down 10, that’s how you can win the game.

“We keep track of it throughout the game – how many stops we get in a row. My coaches will tell me what it is, and if it’s one or two in the course of a game, that’s not very good. We got it going there at the end of the fourth quarter where I think it was six or seven. That energizes those guys too – they take pride in it.

And lo and behold, Washington is up 2-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series for the first time since 1979.

50 Comments

  1. okc2014 says:

    The Wizards could have had a much better regular season, but suffered injuries, mainly from Nene, Beal and Wall. It would be refreshing to see this team beat Chicago and make it to the 2nd round. Cause I believe they can beat the Pacers. I wouldn’t have thought this 4 months ago. Too bad so sad.

  2. Mitra says:

    Great performance by Washington!! It was nice to see another force coming up in the East. The league will be interesting as a result.

  3. Donn says:

    Our correspondent doesn’t know where Nene was almost all season?

    Underachieving????? This team had never played together before the season started; a couple of key guys weren’t even here then.

    Pretty obvious what happened: a team of experienced playoff players – thrown together at the start of the year – spent the season polishiing their game.

  4. miamiheat says:

    wow the amount of wizards bangwagoners is hilarious. The Wiz are good don’t get me wrong but game 2 the bulls lost that game due to lack of offensive punch. Although defence wins championships this just shows you still need to be able to create a shot, at the end of the day if Bulls had d.rose it would be a easy sweep for the bulls against this wizards team. Wizards will beat the bulls (due to bulls lack of a player to create a shot) and they might put up a good fight against the Pacers but if pacers get back on track they are just as good as the bulls defensively but with scoring punches in paul george, lance, west, george hill, and with scola and turner of the the bench. Even if pacers are still somewhat off track in the second round they will still beat the wizards, because of the simple fact wizards almost lost game 2 and bulls have no offensive punch indiana would not let them get back from down 10…in the end the final outcome of ECF will be miami coming out victorious the east is just pathetic and something should be done about it by the league dont know what but something should be lol

  5. Nay says:

    It’s no surprise that the Wizards are beating the Bulls this series. I predicted this to happen; more here: http://thenaykedtruth.blogspot.com/2014/04/2014-nba-playoff-predictions.html

  6. sagaliba says:

    Well, Nene missed 25 games, and they didn’t have a second unit until after the trade deadline (with the addition of Miller, Gooden, and a healthy Harrington, who missed 50 games). During the early part of the season, Wizards had the worst bench in the entire NBA!

  7. Dingdang says:

    Sweep Bulls, Wiz! I believe you are the MAN! And hit the free throws please! You guys can do that, and have to make it!!!

  8. JamesF says:

    CRUSH the bulls and give Noah that he’s not desevering as defensive player of the year!

  9. cp10 says:

    “We’ serious right now” -John Wall

  10. QVC says:

    The Wizards have been where they always have been! The media and writers just continue to get caught up in all the “hype” with the Bulls, while the Wizards continue to move on! Media and Sports writers you loose! and your loss!

  11. dirtworshiper74 says:

    I paid real money to go to a Wizards regular season game this year for the first time if forever because I finally saw a team that even if not “Great” was legitimate and fun and worth wanting to feel a part of. So, some of us saw this coming, or at least hoped.

  12. Robert says:

    Trevor Ariza has played well he is number 1 on D for this team

  13. Matrix says:

    I wonder what can “the starters” say now….after their comment before first round that Chicago will crush Washington and that the games are going to be ugly and boring with low scores

  14. Matt says:

    Gortat has a great impact on Wizz D! Marcin has shown great improvement. He is a double-double threat whenever he steps foot on the court.

  15. The Schoowow says:

    Flip Saunders is the answer to all the questions about the Wiz. He’s not a Coach, He’s a MIKE. Thank goodness, Wiz fans, he’s gone. Without him, “mental” Blatche, McGee, Young would still be with us, turning this team from a nice post season team into a monster, a candidate. Now he’s doing his work on Wolves. Adelman really needed him as manager, yeah rite. And Love, too. The Shadow moved west and we are slowly recovering. Killed Wiz, now killing Wolves.
    Always thought Should take some time to convince these young guys they’re not “mental” as he told everybody, excusing all those loses under him.
    Wittman at coach is OK. Not one of the greatest. He lets these young guys play. not forcing himself upon the team. Why is it a surprise, then? everybody says “Wiz are more talented than Bullz”. right? (that is, without Rose and Deng, OC)
    Thibeau dott destroyed THE TRIO in Boston, remember? now doing THE JOB on Bullz. Miami should pay him. Doing their job for them. He’s pushing his rosters beyond their limits and killing his own team, time and again. Losing Rose, TWICE. What a shame. But losing Deng? one cannot clear himself when weakening his team in a quest for that holy cow “Home court advantage”. Killed Celtics. Now Bullz. Careful, NBA teams, team killers are out there on the loose. And MIKEs, too.

    • NextManUp says:

      wat have Blatch , McGee and Young done in other places that makes u think would make Wizards Candidate ?

  16. Brendan says:

    The series is over. Wiz 4-0, 4-1 at most. We’ll see Atlanta in the second round and lose in 6 to Miami in ECF

  17. redskin ray says:

    great great win for thw wiz no one though could do this I though they could get one but to get them both that’s great this thing is OVER.

  18. Dizzle says:

    If you watched the Wizards all season, you’d know their issues are:

    1) Failure to get up for bad teams (losses to Kings, Sixers, Bucks, decimated Celtics, swept by Nuggets).

    2) Horrible coaching by Randy Wittman.

    3) Injuries which prevented the sort of 7-8 game win streaks that garner national attention.

    When dialed in, this team could (and did) beat everyone NOT named the Spurs. They routinely got up for big games, especially at home. They’re also very good on the road, which makes their pedestrian home record puzzling. But what they’re doing vs Chicago isn’t a shocker to folks who’ve suffered with this squad for the past 6 seasons.

  19. Adama says:

    Finally, people are getting to see what I have known all season. When healthy, the Wizards is a dangerous team. They have long gritty players who are not afraid to mix it up, play hard nose defense, and have guys that can score in a variety of ways. The one but I have is John Wall settling for long jump shots at times and making careless turnovers like he did at one point in the fourth quarter. When he focus and penetrating and dishing the ball, they are a different team. I have been bullish on the Wizs and will not be surprise to see them in the Eastern conference finals. One more thing, Beal has to be aggressive.

  20. eastbrook russell says:

    if indiana players keep acting like a bantam basketball collection, the Wizards could take down what the Hawks will leave unfinished due to their immense lack of talent. I think the Bulls could carve a couple of wins, but at worst for the Wizards this will be a 4-2 series. If they pull the 2nd upset in a row, man, this team is a nightmare matchup for the Heat. Good centers with post moves (actually 2 of them), a fast athletic guard duo, and a strong SF that can defend Lebron. Starting to think this team might be a bigger threat than the Pacers.

  21. ... says:

    the bulls could have gotten a chance to win if Thibs had put Dunleavy in earlier to give the team some fire power and to help space out the floor. Butler wasn’t needed in that situation when they were down 4…but I guess Thib’s philosophy is to work the guys to death and hope for a miracle.

  22. blaz says:

    Bulls shoudnt have left Nate Robinson!

  23. Mike says:

    Defense will win one-off games and will hold you in good stead for the regular season, but it’s offense that keeps your opponents guessing. In a best-of-seven series teams get the opportunity to figure out each others schemes and sadly the bulls are one dimensional when it comes to a winning game plan.

  24. blaz says:

    I remember Gortat coming to Washington,made some remarks on this team having potential to win 50 games a season. He was crushed by some journalist (cant exactly remember who, today). The journalist even was like – asking what stuff was Gortat on…. Wonder if anyone disagrees with him today…?

  25. Mark says:

    No word about Marcin Gortat’s appers!

  26. Amador Amor says:

    Noah won the DOY but lost the game to the Wizards. Chicago is a great defensive team but defense wont win games for you. You must have at least 45% efficiency in offense to win games. Unfortunately, the Bulls dont have them. It shows clearly that the guards of the Wizards helplessly outplayed and outscored the Bulls guard. Noah cannot guard both Nene and the other center of Washington. If this trend continues, Wizards sweeps the Bulls in 4.

  27. Pac-Man says:

    the match-up plays so well on Wizards favor.. Bulls lack of depth in their bench will cost them this series.

  28. DarkHorse Wizards says:

    I expect the wizards to go all out after the acquisitions they made during the season. I think it’s paying off now and if they keep their level of play and not let down they “MIGHT” even have a chance to get to the conference finals. Bulls back court needs to do a better job.

  29. Orlando says:

    Another solid grind it out win for the Wiz. We need to work on defending the high pick and roll. That’s Chicago’s bread and butter. And for goodness sake Wiz HIT YOUR FREE THROWS! We do that and we’re in great shape to close it out here at home this weekend.

  30. Troy G Batson says:

    I am one of the few people that is not surprised by us being in the playoffs and as the article stated we could have been a higher seed with having the ability to close out many games that we gave away in the second half of games. The third and fourth quarters were detrimental to the Wizards during the regular season and I have an app that sends me scores and I used to dread looking at that during the reg season as we really probably squandered 10-15 games away in the second half. I thought we should have been more dialed in and to understand that no one in the NBA wants to see another team succeed, especially at their expense. Its a tough league and you have got to figure out a way to win those close games against the good and the bad teams in order to know what type of personality you have as a team. A couple of plays in those games can make all the difference for success, and yes its a 48 minute game but you can play well for 47 and brain dump in the final minute and give away a game you had locked up, maturity yes but understanding time and general game/clock management. Again I am not surprised and I told some friends before the season started that I expected us to finish between 3-4 in the east, of those many games we handed out as party gifts to opponents and possible challenging for second seed in east? Am I crazy, not at all; these are games that your great NBA teams figure out a way to win and if we want to join that club we are going to have to figure out how to win them and the playoffs only solidify what you have done and learned from the season about the league and yourselves as a team. Playoffs yeah we talking playoffs!! Geaux WIZARDS!!!

  31. WIzards Fan says:

    wizards sweep the bulls. they beat the pacers in 6 games and beat the heat in 7 games and then beat the spurs to win the championship.

  32. dustydreamnz says:

    Great article. Lovin the Wizards at the moment.

  33. צתמנתצ says:

    i always said that when they will anderstand how to play as a team they will be very good

  34. Bulls fan 73 says:

    Damn… just crush the wizards @ their home and come back, Bulls!

  35. Maayan Lev says:

    Miami wasn’t looking to avoid Washington. It was looking to avoid the Nets. But when the Nets and Wizards unexpectedly switched seeds (5 and 6) on the last day of the season, it worked out this way instead.

  36. Ryan says:

    Unexpected for this series to turnout like this, but credit the Wizards for playing well…

  37. jumppong says:

    well it’s a shamed Noah is the defensive player of the year but can’t beat Nene

  38. Jennings7 says:

    I think that they will beat the Pacers in the next round, but then it’s over against the Heat

    • The Zards says:

      What if Brooklyn can beat up the Heat a little bit? It would be nice to sweep the Bulls to get Nene a little rest. Im a little concerned with that. Barring injury you may be right though…

  39. jdub455 says:

    This wizards team is tough! Miller is beginning to gel with the team and of course the addition of Nene is big! I noticed that even the Champs have a hard time playin against this guys esp if beal and ariza makes ‘em outside shots. They big, athletic, and wall is the fastest player in the nba with the ball man! So hopefully, they finish their series with the bulls quickly cause its interesting to see how they mature for the rest of the playoffs…

  40. Honkytonk says:

    It was just a good Game! Both were good Games.
    I stick with Sir Charles. As long as Chicago can’t find the Bucket in the last quarter, they’ll be swept by Washington.
    Rose could’ve helped but Boozer’s not working and Kirk’s had to make his freethrows.
    Maybe Tony Snell might bring difference? I don’t think so.

  41. recom says:

    LANDSLIDE win by WASHINGTON ….oh…