One of the more interesting teams in this year's playoffs is the Washington Wizards. They seem to have a solid starting five and a balanced attack on offense, but the real surprise might be that they can play defense as well. The team that just got past the Chicago Bulls in 5 games has a legitimate shot at making it to the NBA Finals.
Regardless of what the Wizards do against the struggling Pacers, the winner of the series more than likely still has to face the Miami Heat and LeBron James. If the Wizards can advance against the Pacers, they just might represent the best challenge available to dethrone the Heat in the East. They have size and speed that can give opponents fits, but becoming a great playoff team will depend more on their defense and the play of John Wall.
The inconsistent play might end their playoff run, however, if they continue their improvement from the Chicago series they have a shot at getting past the confident bunch from South Beach. The following are 10 reasons why the Wizards could stun the NBA community and make it to the NBA Finals.
10 The Wizards Are Road Warriors
If the Wizards are to make it to the NBA Finals, they will have to win on the road. For a team that had the same record on the road as they had at home, 22-19, this indicates that they don't necessarily need the comfortable confines of their home court to win. In their first-round series with the Chicago Bulls, the Wizards were a prefect 3-0 at Chicago's United Center while splitting two games at home. They won the first game of the second round in Indiana, to move to 4-0 on the road in this year's playoffs.
9 Gooden, Miller and Harrington
Drew Gooden has played in 49 postseason games, while Andre Miller has appeared in 58 postseason games carrying a healthy 14.3 points per game average in those contests. Even Al Harrington has 51 postseason games to his credit with 25 coming as a member of the Indiana Pacers. These three veteran players can help provide some valuable minutes and leadership from their positions on the Wizards' bench. The San Antonio Spurs and even the Brooklyn Nets seem to benefit from the play of veterans down the stretch and Washington can draw upon the experience from these three in a prolonged series with either Indiana or Miami.
These three players are certainly past their prime, but the playoffs can invigorate any veterans who are in pursuit of a ring. A point guard, versatile defensive forward and scoring big man can all make valuable contributions if the Wizards get locked up in a tight battle with any Eastern Conference foe.
8 Great Offensive Balance
The Wizards have two guards who can score on any given night, but it might come as a surprise to know that all five starters averaged at least 13.2 points per game during the regular season. This gives Washington extraordinary balance and the ability to exploit matchups when John Wall or Bradley Beal are not hitting their shots. Their backcourt is lethal, but Nene and Marcin Gortat can do their share of damage in the post when they need a change of pace. The Wizards are a very versatile team that might not have the greatest depth, but do have sufficient options with their starters to give opponents some fits.
7 Trevor Booker and Martell Webster
Trevor Booker has proven he can not only provide a spark off the bench, but fill in as a starter too. He has averaged 6.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.63 blocked shots per game this season. Martell Webster has done even better offensively with a 9.7 points per game scoring average as well as providing size and length to battle muscular small forwards or guards. If the Wizards are going to get past David West, Paul George, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, Booker and Webster will need to contribute their twelve fouls and presence on defense, in addition to some points off the bench.
6 Indiana's Struggles
It is well-known that the Indiana Pacers came into the playoffs struggling, having lost 9 or their last 15 regular season games. What is less-known about the Pacers is their season long offensive struggles that placed them at 24th in the league for points scored and 28th in the league at team field goal percentage (44.9%). Indiana managed to score over 100 points just once in their seven game series against the 38-44 Atlanta Hawks who surrendered a substantial 101.5 points per contest throughout the regular season.
Indiana has not been able to effectively incorporate Evan Turner into their arsenal since the trade that sent saw the departure of Danny Granger. The defense hasn't changed, but things have not opened up for Roy Hibbert and David West or even the slashing Paul George. The play at the point has been less than stellar and Washington has a premier point guard heading their way. The timing might be just right and the talent on their roster just good enough to get the Wizards past the Indiana Pacers and onto the next round.
5 Gortat and Nene
Almost as if they have been built to take on the Indiana Pacers and the tandem of Roy Hibbert and David West, the Wizards have two capable big men of their own. Nene Hilario and Marcin Gortat, both stand a hair under 7 feet tall, but play every bit as tall as their 6'11" frames. Nene has 250 pounds he can use to push opposing big men off their favorite spot on the block, while Gortat uses his length and quickness to the ball as evidenced by his average of 1.5 blocked shots per game. Offensively, Gortat is good at driving to the hoop and taking second-chance shots from the weak side, while Nene can back down defenders and take step-back jumpers when his progress is stopped.
What makes the duo tough for Indiana is the fact that West and Hibbert will do little to draw either one of them out of the paint. If Gortat and Nene can stay out of foul trouble, Indiana will need to need to get even more production from Paul George and Lance Stephenson and might settle for outside shots. Even against the Heat, these two can be tough match ups for Haslem and Bosh with their size and strength.
4 Trevor Ariza
Trevor Ariza is a critical player against any of the Eastern Conference teams that remain. He will have to match up against Paul George and then LeBron James if the Wizards and Heat both advance. Ariza is a very capable defender and will likely try to force George to bomb away from the outside. With Gortat and Nene clogging up the middle, Ariza can take more chances on interfering with George's outside shot. His ability to play tight defense on small forwards who like to drive will go a long way towards the Wizards advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Ariza can also shoot the ball from the outside and take the ball to the basket as well. He can pressure the likes of George and James to keep them honest on both sides of the court. If John Wall has his way penetrating, Ariza can be counted on to hit from the outside. If his shot is on and he stays out of foul trouble, the Wizards will be that much harder to beat.
3 The Talented Backcourt Tandem
Bradley Beal and John Wall are easily one of the top backcourt tandems in the playoffs. Beal, along with Ariza, hit just over 40% of his 3-point attempts this year. If Wall continues to penetrate and dish, it will open things up for Beal or Ariza to be that second option on any given night. Wall and Beal can also play terrific defense and have the speed, size and quickness to keep up with just about any set of guards. Wall showed his defensive prowess by averaging 1.8 steals per game during the regular season, while Beal helped do more than score by averaging 4.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in the Chicago series.
Together the tandem averaged 36.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 12.1 assists per game. It is a difficult task to shut down just one of them, but close to impossible to take them both out of a game. If they can both play dominant roles, Indiana, Miami or Brooklyn will have no answer for shutting down the Wizards offense.
2 The Wizards Can Play Defense
The Wizards are one of the few teams that can average over 100 points a contest and hold opponents under 100 points as well. The numbers do not tell the whole story about how effective the Wizards can be on defense. They start with three great on-ball defenders in Ariza, Beal and Wall and then have the body of Nene in the post to go along with the decent footwork and length of Gortat guarding the paint.
The Wizards defense is solid even though there is no real matchup for the speed, quickness and power of LeBron James. Does anybody in the East have a matchup for that? The Wizards have the 280 pound Kevin Seraphin as well as Gooden and Booker to back up the big men in the paint. The versatile Webster (6'7", 235 pounds) can come in at small forward to help out on George or LeBron or also at guard if Stephenson is getting to be a load.
1 John Wall
John Wall is currently in his fourth season with the Wizards. Earlier this year, the Wizards beat the Portland Trailblazers and found themselves with their first wining record (24-23) since 2009. The catalyst behind Washington's improvement has been the play of point guard, John Wall. The 6'4", 195 pound guard, set personal best averages of 19.3 points and 8.8 assists per game during the regular season. He can prove that he is one of the up and coming stars in the league by leading the Wizards to the NBA Finals.
Wall has more of a supporting cast than LeBron James ever had in Cleveland with Beal and Ariza as scoring threats and the solid play of Gortat and Nene. It might be the right time for Wall to make his pitch for becoming a superstar in the NBA. At this stage of his career, he is better than Deron Williams, George Hill or Mario Chalmers at the point. He is capable of dominating these remaining Eastern Conference guards and if he does, it will represent the biggest reason why the Wizards can make it to the NBA Finals.