2018 NBA Playoff Preview: Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards came into the season with a mountain of expectations. This was supposed to be the year that they vaulted into the elite of the Eastern Conference and secured the chance to have home court advantage in more than just the first round. After an off-season of speculation centering around their belief that they would have beaten the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Wizards laid an egg this season. Finishing the season as the 8th seed in the East has to be a big disappointment for a team that had big goals heading into the season. It makes it even more disappointing to know that had they beaten the Orlando Magic on the final night of the season, they would have avoided the Toronto Raptors and been the 6th seed taking on the 76ers. The Wizards’ 9 point loss to the Magic is an exclamation point on a disappointing regular season.
The Wizards’ inconsistency could be put on point guard John Wall missing 40 games. In Wall’s absence, the Wizards played almost .500 basketball, going 20-21. Wall returned to the line-up at the end of March, but the Wizards have continued to struggle even with his return. The Wizards went 7-13 over their final 20 games including a record of 2-2 in games that Wall played in after his return from injury. Looking at their schedule and results page is an amazing experience. Winning by 10 against the Spurs only to turn around and lose by 11 to the Pistons, followed by a big win over the Hornets in Wall’s return only to get blown out by the Bulls the next day. It has been a strange season heading into the playoffs.
The biggest strength for the Wizards is that they do not fear the Toronto Raptors. Bradley Beal, John Wall, Marcin Gortat, and Otto Porter were all apart of their 2015 team that swept the Raptors out of the 1st round of the playoffs. This season, they won two of their four games against the Raptors and they did not have John Wall for any of those games. Wall adds another dimension to the Wizards offensively and he had great success individually against the Raptors last year with two of his ten 30 point games coming against the Raptors. Despite Washington’s disappointing regular season, they will go into this series with confidence.
The biggest weakness for the Wizards is their inconsistency. It is hard to know what Wizards team is going to show up from game to game. They have to be a maddening team to root for based solely on the fact that there are times when they look unbeatable and there are times when they look completely disinterested. As a team, it seems that they are still trying to find their identity. Any team with the core that the Wizards have should be better than the 8th seed, but here we are.
The X-Factor for these Wizards is Otto Porter. After getting paid last summer, is Porter ready to be that number three scorer that the Wizards need. This season, they are 10-6 when Porter scores 20 or more points. They need him to be aggressive and allow him to be more involved in the offense. Having him spot up in the corner while John Wall dribbles for 8 seconds is not going to be good enough if the Wizards hope to get deep into these playoffs. Otto Porter has shown this season that he is ready for more and given that the Wizards maxed him out, head coach Scott Brooks has to do more with Porter. Unfortunately, Porter suffered an injury in the game against Boston and his status for game one is not clear at the moment.
A player to watch for the Wizards is Tomas Satoransky. He has had a great second season for the Wizards and looks to be a big player off the bench for them in the playoffs. He has great size and can do it all for them. Although not a high volume three point shooter, he has hit a high percentage of his shots from deep, which will be a big help to the Wizards in spacing the floor for Wall. He presents some unique possibilities for line-ups as well giving the Wizards the chance to go bigger without losing a primary ball handler.
Although the Wizards have struggled this season, the playoffs are here and they are in. That is more than a lot of teams can say and they should be happy that they have managed to stay in the hunt. It is really difficult to predict what the Wizards might be able to do in the playoffs. They might be gone after the 1st round or they could get to the Finals, they have that kind of talent. Despite their talent, I think the Wizards are going home after the 1st round. The Toronto Raptors are a good team and I would take the Raptors in 5 games. Washington’s questionable chemistry and inconsistent play do not equal playoff success. Unfortunately, they are committed to this roster with Porter and Beal under contract for three more seasons and Wall’s max contract for another four. If they cannot figure out how to win in the 1st round, it could be an interesting summer for the Wizards.