In the opening round of the NBA playoffs, the Washington Wizards lead the Chicago Bulls 2-1 in their best-of-seven series. The Wizards’ last playoff appearance was in 2008. After that Washington strung together five straight losing campaigns in which they failed to win 30 games. And then this season they won 44.
To discuss the source of the Wizards’ sudden sorcery, Mike Wise of the Washington Post joined Bill Littlefield.
So not only did they have this young, dynamic backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, they have a vat of cagey veterans that have extensive playoff experience that play major minutes that nobody really talks about and people are just now beginning to notice.
BL: Forward Trevor Ariza is the only member of the Wizards to have previously played for a champion – he was on the 2008-09 Lakers title team. He said this week that he sees the 82-game regular season as “training ground for the playoffs.” I wonder if the commissioner is going to speak to him about that?
MW: I think it’s a great, candid comment because the dirty little secret in the NBA, and I was told this of all people by Shaquille O’Neal, he said, “Bro, there are times we take games off and people don’t even know it.”
And what he meant was, there is an incredible grind and for a playoff team that’s going to play over 100 games a year, the best thing you can do during the regular season is not only try to achieve some dominance but also get your body right for April, May and June when the finals start.
BL: It’s often said that the NBA is a star-driven league. Bulls star and former NBA MVP Derrick Rose is out again this year with another knee injury. Is this a case of John Wall and Company simply having too much offensive talent for the Bulls to handle?
MW: You hit it on the head. Tom Thibodeau is probably thought of as — right around Gregg Popovich in San Antonio – as the best coach in the game and can almost take you, me and three other guys and have a winning season in the NBA. But for all the adjustments Thibodeau can make, they don’t have people who can score the ball.
BL: Most of what I read after the Wizards beat the Bulls twice in Chicago was speculation about whether the Bulls could come back. Should people be asking instead how far the Wizards can go in these playoffs?MW: I think it’s a very good question and it’s not being legitimized enough. Now the way the Atlanta – Indiana series is shaping up where the No. 1 seed may go down to the Hawks, a lot of people think the Wizards could get out of the second round, and, you know, lo and behold, contend in the conference finals and [get] a shot at the NBA finals.
I still think the Miami Heat are head and shoulders above everybody, but if the Wizards got there this would be akin to one of the biggest stories in Washington sports.