Thursday, May 24, 2018

In an interview with Brian Windorst of ESPN, Bradley Beal proclaimed the Washington Wizards were the best team in the Eastern Conference. While nobody questions the young squad’s confidence, their lack of production on the court clearly states otherwise; especially after last night’s 35-point debacle in Brooklyn.

If the Washington Wizards want to truly solidify themselves as NBA elite, it’s important they find a way to defeat the Boston Celtics on Christmas day; preferably, in a convincing fashion. Without a statement win heading into the New Year, Washington’s resume carries no substantial wins to demand respect. But, there’s hope.

Sliding between the 6th & 8th seed in the East heading into their Christmas Day matchup with the Eastern Conference leading 26-win Celtics, was not where the self-proclaimed “Biggest threat” – in reference to the LeBron James lead Cavaliers-imagined themselves to be at season’s start.

The Wizards ‘Big 3’ of John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter, have only played 18 games with each other; while the full line-up of starters-the ‘Big 3’ plus Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat-have merely played 11 games together, at full strength.

It’s no secret that the injury bug has made it’s rounds in the Wizards locker-room.

Injury Bug, Bites

Morris missed around 2 – weeks at the start of the season due to his sports hernia surgery; and served a required one – game suspension for leaving the bench during the Beal-Green altercation in late October.

Wall required PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections after knee-to-knee contact in the team’s November 7th loss against the underwhelming, Dallas Mavericks. He missed 4 – weeks during the recovery period, in which the Wizards won 4 of 9; most notably, losing by 47 – points to the Utah Jazz. (Beal dropped 51 the following night in Portland but, the Utah loss held a gloomy smog over the west–coast road trip.)

As of recently, Porter has missed two games with a nagging hip injury, in which he suffered just three minutes into the team’s December 15th win over the Clippers. He made his return last night in Brooklyn, playing 21 minutes while scoring just 6 points on 2-for-5 shooting. It was an overall bad shooting night for the Wizards; shooting 36% against the 11th team in the East is absolutely unacceptable.

The Boys Are Back in Town

Now, it’s time to exhale Wizards fans. The bad news is seemingly behind you; at least in this article.

The good news is, when a healthy Wall, Beal, and Porter are on the court together this season, they hold the highest net points (difference between a team’s points scored and points allowed) output of any three-man combination on the roster (+114).

It’s a simple formula for the Wizards; their best players must play.

Luckily for Washington, they hold a 15–7 record on Christmas Day, with their most recent win coming against the New York Knicks, in Madison Square Garden a couple years back.

However, this game against the Celtics will be held at TD Garden in Boston. Out of the last 11 regular and postseason games played between these two teams last season, the home team won every single game. Boston’s home dominance has remained on display this season as they hold the third best home record in the East at 13–4; Washington is 8–9 on the road.

Banking on the addition of Otto to the starting lineup once again on Christmas Day, the gang will be all back together. Let’s not forget, although the Wizards may be relatively disappointing this season, they tallied 50 wins last season after getting off to a rough start.

The Wizards bench has also made a vast improvement this season; also, a testament to earning more rotation minutes due to injuries. In 2016 – 2017, Washington had the 29th ranked bench scoring production, averaging just 26.6 points. This season, they rank 14th in total bench production (28th last season), averaging 34.5 points. Key additions of Mike Scott (9.8 points on 58.5% shooting) and Jodie Meeks (6.6 points) have delivered veteran savvy, “microwave” scoring threats to the rotation.

In addition to all of this, the growth of fan–favorite, Kelly Oubre, has definitely caught the eye of basketball fans around the league.

Oubre has started 8 games thus far this season, and is averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds. He’s becoming rather viable from behind the arc as well, knocking down 36% of the threes he takes; fifth highest three – point percentage on the team. Last year he was ninth on the team, shooting 28%.

All eyes will obviously be on the star–studded point guard matchup between Wall and Kyrie Irving.

Irving vs. Wall Rekindled

Wall is still working his way back into the swing of things after his PRP surgery; averaging 15.3 ppg, 6.3 assists, and shooting 35% from the field in his last four games back. On the season, he is averaging 19.3 points and 8.6 assists. His 8.6 assists would rank fourth in the NBA, only behind MVP candidates James Harden (9.0), LeBron James (9.2) and Russell Westbrook (9.7) however, Wall doesn’t currently qualify in the leaderboards because he hasn’t played 70% of his team’s games (Currently has only played 64%).

Irving’s Celtics have cooled down a bit here recently, dropping 4 of their last 7. In the past 7 games, Irving is averaging 30.2 points per game; however, they’ve been on the receiving end of some stellar performances from a few unlikely players; Kelly Olynk’s 32 points and 7 rebounds on 80% shooting. Michael Beasley’s 32 points and 12 rebounds on 65% shooting.

The last time these two guards faced off was a 7:30 pm tip at Quicken Loans Arena. Wall had a field day, scoring 37 points on 66% shooting, diming up his teammates 11 times; he also went 2/2 from the three–point line.

Irving struggled. He scored 23 points on 8–for–23 shooting, and just 1–for–7 from behind the arc. Washington won that game, 127 – 115.

It is a much different time now, especially for Irving. Uncle Drew ‘took his talents’ to Boston, and the entire team dynamic is completely different now that there’s no six foot eight, four time MVP, shadow dwelling over top of him.

Celtics Coach, Brad Stevens, “pedagogy” (coaching style) is “dope”, according to Jaylen Brown. While the focus is on a championship, Stevens is focused on instilling the fundamentals into his team, which ultimately has them at a high enough level to compete for a NBA title.

What Christmas Means to D.C.

Overall, winning this Christmas Day matchup over the top seed in the East is exactly the step in the right direction this team needs right now. Washington is currently 7.5 games back sitting at 8th place, but seeds four through eight are all hanging around 14/15 games in the loss column.

Washington has 3 extremely winnable matchups in the remaining days this December, (Orlando, Atlanta, and Chicago) and 2 “measuring stick” games against Boston and Houston. Heading into the New Year with 20+ wins will most likely catapult Washington into the top 4 seeds – where they believe they should be – and get them back into a groove in pursuit of another 50+ win season.

Last season, they were one win away from their first 50 – win season since the Elvin Hayes lead Washington Bullets in the 1978 – 1979 season.

That was also Washington’s last NBA Finals appearance, in which they loss 4-1 to the Seattle SuperSonics, interesting.

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