Many were predicting the Bulls to win their first round series against the Wizards. While the Washington Wizards were an underdog playoff team, they have proved how dangerous of a team they are; as a result, it appears as though they have a promising future this postseason. The question is: Can the Wizards make it to the conference finals?
Washington was not a team with a lot of expectations this season. While it was possible they were going to make the playoffs, it appeared as though they would make an exit after the first round. Now, on the heels of a second round appearance, the Wizards look as strong as anyone in the playoffs. Being able to score at will, against the number one defense in the league, is no short task. However, the Wizards did exactly that with a starting lineup full of offensive weapons. To be able to stop Bradley Beal (20.5ppg), Trevor Ariza (18 ppg), John Wall (17.5 ppg and 7.5 apg), Nene Hilario (17 ppg) and Marcin Gortat (13 ppg) is going to be a tough task for anyone.
Additionally, they have a solid defensive line. While the Bulls may have been offensively deficient, do not take away the Wizards’ success at the defensive end of the floor. They made the Bulls work for every single possession. It also helps that they have a talented middle in that of Nene and Gortat, which is going to make it not only difficult for anyone to score inside, but it also will be difficult to out-rebound them.
Most importantly though, Washington is playing with the conviction needed to win a championship. They play like a team, and they smell blood. While it seems they have the determination to make it far this postseason, it is important to see how they match up with their possible second round matchup.
For the first part of the season, Atlanta was the third best team in the Eastern Conference. However, when their starting center, Al Horford, made his exit after tearing his right pectoral muscle in December, the team went on a downward spiral. Not only did they start losing more games, but it appeared that the squad would not even make it to the playoffs.
However, much like the Wizards, the Hawks came together at the end of the season. Yes, they are currently playing the Pacers, who bring new meaning to “downward spiral,” but they have impressed many with their resilience.
It is expected that Washington will play Atlanta in the second round. As such, they are playing a team that is very similar to themselves, with a squad full of weapons. Paul Millsap is leading the team with 21.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg and 2.0 bpg. Additionally, Jeff Teague (18.0 ppg, and 6.0 apg) and Kyle Korver (13.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg and who’s also shooting 41 percent shooting), along with a solid bench, is putting them in a surprise playoff run.
The good thing for the Wizards is that while the Hawks are putting in good performances, their front line just simply is not as good as Washington’s. Also, while Milsap is a good defender, the Hawks do not have the defensive line that the Wizards do.
However, the Hawks do hold advantages over the Wizards. First and foremost, they have a formidable bench; in turn, they have a greater depth throughout the team than the Wizards, who do not have much firepower coming from the bench.
Despite that though, the Hawks do not have what it takes to deal with the offense of the Washington Wizards. Additionally, the Hawks are against a Pacers team who are floundering and have been floundering for months. While they are playing well, they do not have the promising playoff future that the Washington Wizards do. Because of this, they are not up to the standard of the Wizards, who are playing up to the toughest defense in the league. If the Hawks do likely beat the Pacers, it would not be a surprise to see the Wizards sweep or beat them in five games.
As mentioned, the Pacers seem to be in the midst one of the largest self-destruct acts in NBA history. They ended up finishing with the top record in the NBA, but they also finished the season 16-15, which is embarrassing for a team that lost a mere seven games in the first 40 of the season.
The question of course is: Why are they falling apart? Without being inside of that locker room, nothing is for certain; however, there is a trend that started to appear immediately after the trade deadline, where the Pacers received Andrew Bynum and Evan Turner. Bynum has been rumored to be a head case previously; however, the two games he did play, he averaged 11.5 ppg, 1.9 bpg and 9.4 rpg, not to mention that the Pacers won those games. Simply, there is not enough evidence that he is the problem, especially since he has not played most of the season.
Turner, on the other hand, has been all over the place. Additionally, last week it came forward that he and Lance Stephenson butted heads on the eve of a game. While they won the proceeding game, it makes one wonder if the team chemistry has been broken ever since Turner came to the team.
However, Turner is a bench player. The real problem on the Pacers has been the play of Roy Hibbert. One of the advantages the Pacers had was a large middle that consisted of Hibbert and David West. While West has played remarkably well in the playoffs, Hibbert is virtually a non-factor. He is averaging 4.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, .6 bpg but 3.0 fpg. Those are terrible numbers, especially for someone who has been a formidable center in the past.
As a result, the Pacers will get annihilated in the middle. David West can only do so much, and against the tandem of Gortat and Nene, Washington should be able to score at will. Also, much like the Bulls, the Pacers are one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA. While Paul George is putting up 22.6 ppg, he is not the most consistent shooter, and the rest of the team is either at that same mark or worse.
Part of the reason the Bulls were not able to pull away from Washington, is that they could not match the Wizards’ offensive efficiency. If they play the Pacers in the second round, it will be the same story.
Also, while the Pacers had one of the best defenses, they have not proved to be the same team against Atlanta. Of course part of the reason is due to Hibbert, but all the blame cannot be put on him, especially during stretches where he is not on the floor. Unless he and the other Pacer players rise to the occasion in the second round, their defense is going to struggle, just like it did for the Chicago against Washington.
Between the self-destructive path the Pacers are on, and the surging prowess of the Wizards, if the Pacers get lucky and eke out a series win against Atlanta, expect them to be swept in the next round.
No matter what path the Wizards find themselves in, it seems inevitable that they will make it to the conference finals, a place they have not been since 1980, back when they were the Bullets. However, it appears the Washington Wizards are on their way for a playoff future that is promising and bright.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey