If, before the season, you would’ve told me that the Washington Wizards would be the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, I would’ve agreed with you. They were on fire during the second half of last season after John Wall’s return and had an elite defense to back him up. Bradley Beal didn’t get a chance to fully blossom, the team couldn’t stay healthy and they posted a 17-4 record when Wall, Nene and Beal played together.
Of course, that record was recorded from a small sample. But the point was that Wall had finally turned his corner. Beal still had growing to do and had the potential to make that leap after the season. Nene could be one of the five best big men in the game if he could just stay healthy.
If you told me they had a shot to move on to the next round? I probably would’ve laughed at you.
It’s the Washington Wizards, so you know things never go according to plan. Looking back on their offseason acquisitions, they made some terrible moves. Even though they got the 3rd pick in the draft, Otto Porter ended up hurt early on during the NBA Summer League. He didn’t play until the season was well passed underway. And lets not forget, their defensive anchor Emeka Okafor was injured indefinitely. They ended up making a move that landed them Marcin Gortat in Okafor’s place, and the rest is history.
But with a team that had struggled with chemistry issues in the past, a middling coach with different coaching philosophies in this new season and a new two way big man, you just knew things would blow up in the Wizards’ face. And, really, they did. After just nine games into the season and a 2-7 start, the Wizards had to call for a dreaded “players only meeting”. At this point, you knew the season was either going down in flames or things would turn around for the better.
This was a franchise that had faced ineptitude for the last six seasons. They couldn’t buy themselves a break–literally and figuratively speaking. Every investment they made went to waste. JaVale McGee, Andray Blatche, Gilbert Arenas, Nick Young, Jordan Crawford. None of those players ended up making a difference for Washington in the John Wall era. The expectation for things to go down in flames was a pretty popular one.
But, low and behold, here the Wizards are advancing to the second round of the playoffs. The players only meeting did the trick for the Wizards. Trevor Ariza and Al Harrington convinced John Wall to step into the leadership role that he needed to step into–similar to what Emeka Okafor did for Wall last season. This is what catapulted John Wall into his first All-Star berth and endeared him in the hearts of many fans across the globe.
The Washington Wizards won their first playoff series since 2005 last night. They did it against the Chicago Bulls both times. But this time, the path was a different one. This time the path was an organic one. This is a team that plays with substance and is without the flare that the Wizards teams in the previous decade had. This was a team that dug into the dirt and did the dirty work. They worked hard on the defensive end and let that roll into the offensive side of the ball.
The Wizards had plenty of kinks to work out throughout the season. Their defense was terrible to start the year off, but it worked its way back to the 9th spot in terms of defensive efficiency. John Wall still had to develop his jump shot–he even took too many at times. Bradley Beal had to develop his ball handling and phase out the instances where he dribbled too much. They both had to learn to read the defense and exercise patience–something that they didn’t do throughout the year.
But when it came down to it, they dug deep and knocked off one of the stronger defensive teams in the league. Beal, at 20 years old, was the best player on the court throughout the series. Wall showed a bit of patience and manipulated the defense so that he could open up creases for his teammates. They showed the ability to trust in each other, help each other on both ends and help everyone else.
Trevor Ariza gave Wizards fans a season of thrills that he had never shown any organization before. He became a sharpshooter and worked well in concert with Wall as they hooked up for three after three after three. Nene was the glue that held everything together and Gortat was the fire that the Wizards needed in their hearts. With all of these players working in unison, the Wizards are advancing to the conference semis and have a shot at competing in the Eastern Conference Finals as well.
So, Wizards fans, be proud of your guys. Know how hard they’ve worked to make it to this point and what they’ve had to do to get here. Remember all of the moments that you fought your frustration because you knew that there were greater moments to come. These are the moments that you were waiting for. And the best part about it is that they aren’t over yet. These guys are coming together right before your eyes. Expectations will rise, players will grow, rosters will change and so on. But enjoy this because, as Wizards fans, you all know that you never really know what can happen next.