The Washington Wizards Against the Playoff Prognostication World
The pairings of Eastern Conference playoff teams were not set until the final day of the regular season—seeds three through seven were in flux. The Brooklyn Nets evidently decided to lose on purpose in order secure the sixth slot and face off versus the Toronto Raptors. The Chicago Bulls then secured the fourth seed when they lost to the Bobcats on the final day; a win would have moved them past Toronto for third. Bulls fans were happy to avoid the second-seeded Miami Heat until the Conference finals.
The Washington Wizards almost became an afterthought, and the perception was immediately displayed in predictions by basketball pundits. A panel of ESPN NBA writers reflected the general mood surrounding the series; no one believes this is a toss up.
The Starters crew on NBA.com was also mostly pro-Chicago in their predictions.
CBS NBA pixel makers were unanimous in favor the Windy City.
The Sports Illustrated guys rode with Chi-town.
In ESPN’s 5-on-5 playoff series preview, TAI’s founder and editor, Kyle Weidie, was the lone Wiz wolf among a pack of Bulls.
More Bulls nods came via Brandon Parker of The Washington Post and Jimmy Spencer of Fox Sports. Bleacher Report’s wheel of slideshow pageview manipulation also lands on red and black. Tom Ziller of SBN crunched the numbers and gives the Wizards a 33 percent shot. Three members of the Big Lead’s staff are in Washington’s camp, but four still have Chicago advancing… This could keep going on but you get the drift, few like the Wiz.
(Grantland’s Bill Simmons is a noteworthy outlier, as he predicted Washington to lose to Miami in the Conference Finals during his recent B.S. report—whether he makes the claim on national TV remains to be seen. Also of interest (via NBA Reddit): If you were to use a formula based on results from regular season match-ups, Washington is set to win it all.)
There are a few reasons that this predictive narrative has been shaped in favor of the Bulls. Chicago is experienced, has had recent playoff success, and their achievement this season without Derrick Rose (again) has been remarkable. With the Indiana Pacers’ implosion and Chicago’s hot stretch since the All-Star break, many feel the Bulls are the second-best team in the East. Moving them past Washington is just the path they must go through.
Chicago’s drubbing of Washington two weeks ago has seemingly out-weighed the Wizards’ two victories over the Bulls in mid-January. The most poignant explanation is simply Washington’s lack of national TV exposure and respect. The Wiz were shut out completely this season from broadcasts on ABC, ESPN and TNT. (Their lone scheduled game on ESPN versus the Cavs was flexed out and never replaced.) Even NBA junkies on League Pass can’t claim to have watched that many Washington contests. Although people are aware of John Wall’s talents—which were showcased on All-Star weekend—few are going give Washington the benefit of the doubt in the postseason until they go out on the court and prove it.
On Saturday afternoon as the Wizards were set to travel to Chicago, the question of why the usually close battle between 4- and 5-seeds has been so lopsidedly forecasted against Washington was posed to Al Harrington, Andre Miller, Nene, Drew Gooden, and Coach Randy Wittman. Their words:
“That is perfect, now we are the underdogs. Now we don’t have that worry to have any pressure. Now we can come in and play free. Try to make a lot of people wrong.”
“Just how it goes. We can’t worry about what the media and everybody say. Obviously, they (the Bulls) have been playing some good ball the second part of the season. They have found a rhythm with this offense. They have good times on defense where they stop teams from scoring the ball so it is definitely a good matchup and test for our team.”
“Haters are haters, they can control their mouth, we can control what we do, attitude, our game. That is something that they can’t change, depending on us, that’s what we are going to do. We are going to play hard with a lot passion, collectively, together. Who knows the future? Only God. The haters know the past, I know the present, the future only God knows.”
“Of course. If you look at the match-ups and what teams were doing toward the end of the regular season, everyone is kind of … running from the Bulls. Everybody wanted Toronto, then you look at what Brooklyn did with their strategy of matching-up with Toronto because they didn’t want to see the Bulls. The Bulls are playing the best basketball after All-Star break out of any team in the Eastern Conference. They found their niche. You have to see everybody. Whether it is first round, second round, or even conference finals, you are going to have to see your opponent whether it is now or later. I like the now situation of getting the opponents out the way early.”
“I don’t care. That doesn’t play into any of these series. What you guys think of who is going to win, I understand why it is done all right. Let me tell ya, I don’t need to put that on the bulletin board to have these guys ready and fired up. Trust me.”