Michael Jordan’s former team, Washington Wizards are in a good place after clinching its spot in the NBA playoffs which is more than a host of teams can boast of till next season commences. The likes of Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons would trade away a big fraction of their roster for a postseason run.
On the other hand, rebuilding teams like Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks know a return to the playoffs is just a season or two away.
Despite punching its playoffs ticket and having multiple All Star Point Guard John Wall return from a two month injury, the Wizards are not doing well. The team lies eighth in the Eastern Conference standings and has lost eight of the last ten games.
After losing and regaining Wall, the Wizards are in a flux not knowing whether to fully commit to a ball sharing system with Tomas Satoransky as a secondary initiator behind Bradley Beal or go with Wall dominating the ball for long stretches as he hunts for assists.
Sure the ten game stretch includes games against superior opponents like Cleveland Cavaliers and the league’s side Houston Rockets but strange losses to lower ranked Chicago and Atlanta are disappointing.
Should the standings remain same, Washington will be heading north to face Conference winner Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs.
Though the last couple of games between the two sides have ended in a win for either side, Raptors are heavily favored to progress beyond the first round.
Canada’s team is riding the wave of recording a historic 58 game winning season which tops its previous mark of 56.
Unlike previous seasons, where Toronto was spineless without Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors have been a rounded team this season with a deep roster of scorers, playmakers and defenders. Tweaking the system to prioritize more ball movement has helped fringe members become more involved and confident. Players like Fred Van Vleet, Pascal Siakam, OJ Anunoby, Delon Wright and Jakob Poetl have been steady contributors with each player enjoying a couple of highlight moments along the season. Washington has largely disappointed this season clinching 42 wins and 38 losses before tonight’s game against Boston Celtics.
Shooting Guard Beal and Wall were named All Stars but that has not translated to a lot of wins in the regular season. Wall’s injury is a big reason but a matchup against Toronto is almost a death wish unlike a matchup against Boston Celtics. Though Celtics have clinched second place in the East ahead of LeBron James’ Cavaliers, the team is vulnerable heading to the playoffs. Starters Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving have been ruled out for the season while backup Guard Marcus Smart is expected to miss a significant number of games in the playoffs due to varying injuries to the trio.
After suffering a gruesome ankle injury in the opening game this season, Boston has learnt to deal with the loss of Hayward very well. The 17 time NBA Champions won 16 straight games to set the tone for another impressive season under the watch of Coach Brad Stevens. Key to that run was Kyrie Irving before a setback in recovery from a knee surgery cost the remainder of the season. Aside his breathtaking handles and scoring ability, Irving’s playoffs experience as a 2016 NBA Champion with Cleveland and three straight trips to the NBA Finals will surely be missed by a very young team.
Smart’s future with the team is one of the biggest headaches this offseason as he heads to free agency. The Point Guard is an inconsistent shooter who doesn’t assist much but is a terror on defense capable of guarding three positions and in some games, four. To understand what Smart brings to Boston, a quick replay of Celtics close win over Houston tells it all as Smart’s tough defense on James Harden resulted in two turnovers in the final minutes to clinch Boston’s win.
Like Hayward and Irving, Smart has playoff experience after making two trips prior to this season. Without the aforementioned players, Boston has a limited number of players with playoff experience even in the starting unit.
Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier have been to the postseason but Brown and Rozier have just last season’s postseason trip under their belt same as Shane Larkin and Greg Monroe on the bench. A host of first year players including Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye and Guershon Yabusele dominate the remaining spots on the roster. While Wizards have had a poor regular season, its seasoned roster has the know how to turn it on in the playoffs.
However, the team needs to win its last pair of games and hope Milwaukee Bucks does the opposite to get a run at Boston.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter