The Washington Wizards have been an afterthought in the NBA for years, and efforts to drastically change the culture in the organization have mostly been futile. In recent years, they have quietly accumulated some foundational young players as well as some gritty veterans. Consequently, they have burst onto the national scene. The Wizards have the vaunted Chicago Bulls on the ropes in the first round of the playoffs after taking the Game Two of the series for a 2-0 lead heading back to DC.
The Wiz Kids appear to be peaking at the right time. The team had struggled to stay healthy over the past two seasons, but now that the cavalry is all together, Washington is getting some nasty play from its veteran front line of Marcin Gortat, Nene and Trevor Ariza. However, the most eye-opening occurrence of the second game was the maturation of John Wall and Bradley Beal, the two young cornerstone guys that make up the backcourt. Both had a poor performance in Game One, and things were beginning to go sour in Chicago when the Wizards found themselves in a 10-point fourth quarter hole after being up by 17 in the first half.
Instead of rolling over and accepting defeat like many playoff neophytes may have done, Wall and Beal threw the team on their backs and willed them to victory in the fourth quarter and overtime, making huge shots and locking up tight on defense. It may have just been one game, but regardless of what happens the rest of this series, the Wizards have officially arrived behind their dynamic backcourt.
Fans began to take notice once Wall returned from injury late last season and the team started to show promise, and then expectations rose even more after the Wizards experienced more luck in the draft lottery and landed Otto Porter Jr. with the third overall pick. A crafty trade for Gortat later, and then it was playoffs or bust, but few expected them to make this kind of a statement against the league’s preeminent defensive squad. These young WIzards have outplayed a playoff-laden Bulls team that had been absolutely on fire in the second half of the season. They proved they can even play the Bulls’ physical half-court style and beat them at their own game.
This was a statement game that proved Washington might be the Cinderella of the 2014 NBA playoffs. They proved that Game One was no fluke, and now they go home with some room to improve. If they can get a more complete effort out of the bigs in game three coupled with some more grown-up performances from Wall and Beal, the Bulls could be in for a quick and unexpected exit.
The Wizards have officially arrived and placed themselves on the map. Few teams are as balanced on both ends of the floor already, and Washington might have the best back-court to build a team around for the future. There is no telling how far they can go in these playoffs if they continue to click on all cylinders.
Commentary by Justin Hussong