Opening Statements: Wizards vs Bulls, Playoff Game 3–Vines & Emails From The Abyss
D.C. is rising. In the playoffs, with a 2-0 lead over the Chicago Bulls. On Twitter, where hundreds are using the hashtag. (Watch this space during tonight’s game.) And onto ESPN and ABC this weekend, a TV scheduling decision that feels like a symbolic victory.
What should we make of these suddenly poised and confident Washington Wizards? Hours after Tuesday’s epic win left us with full hearts and broken brains, Adam McGinnis and I, Dan Diamond, swapped emails about the state of the series and what to expect in Game 3.
And is D.C. rising into the second round? Well… Adam’s a little more confident—or a little less concerned about jinxing the team—than I am.
Meanwhile, ESPNChicago took a look at several questions from the series, like whether John Wall or Derrick Rose is a better player to build around. My personal favorite: Why can’t Joakim Noah—the newly crowned Defensive Player of the Year—slow down Nene?
Teams: Wizards vs. Bulls
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, DC
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW 99.1 FM
Spread: Wizards by 3 points.
April 23, 5:30 p.m.
Dan Diamond (@ddiamond):
It’s been 17 hours, and I still cannot believe what we saw last night.
(That is figurative, not literal; I can choose to believe it, but as someone who picked the Bulls in six or less, it’s hard convincing my eyes, brain, and heart to all work as one here.)
With the Bulls mounting a run in overtime, I saw that you told #WizardsTwitter that “we got this.” But admit it: Part of you thought we were going to be punked by the same old #SoWizards, right? Right??
April 23, 7:45 p.m.
Adam McGinnis (@adammcginnis):
At some point through the second half last night, amidst my screeds about the refs, I realized that I am emotionally ill-prepared for playoff basketball. Do I need hard drugs? Should I drink more whiskey? Electronic cigarettes?
We are in uncharted waters here with the Washington Wizards. I have been covering games with media credentials since March of 2010 and following the team intently throughout the aughts. All the losses in person numbed my senses and writing “Rashard Lewis sucks” twenty different ways during the lockout season never helped matters. I remember the Cavs and Bulls playoff battles quite well, but these last two games have produced weird feelings of pain and euphoria all jumbled into one bottle that is shaken each possession. How have you felt during these games?
Before Game 2, I spent the day mocking Kirk Hinrich and Carlos Boozer on the Twitter machine. Boozer was dreadful in the first half and Hinrich choked in crunch time. So you are welcome for this victory.
I went with a “we got this” declaration because the Wizards defense was choking out the Bulls again. Contributions were happening from all types of players on both ends. Webster was draining 3s, Ariza locking down Augustin in the fourth, Beal showing out on the big stage, Lord Nene answering #WizardsTwitter prayers, and Trevor Booker hustling down loose balls. John Wall had Hinrich on lockdown, too. There was a tad #SoWizards worry when Wall got called for the push off, but there was still an overall sense that Washington was going to out-grind Chicago.
Aren’t you the guy who said joked the Wizards should be contracted? I hope no one brings that up again… Oh, snap! Haha.
What are your overall takeaways from these games so far? Fans are getting hyped and media types are shoveling post season praise. Skinny T wants everyone to chill. Agree or disagree with that?
April 24, 2:00 a.m.
Dan Diamond (@ddiamond):
Adam, c’mon man. You know my day job is in health care! So I’m not sure I should prescribe any sort of substance, other than sunshine and orange juice.
But if you really need a fix … you should vape. A new drug for a new era of D.C. basketball. Plus we’re in the last few moments before the feds crack down—like the suddenly dominant Wizards, e-cigs are still so crazy different, no one’s sure what to make of them yet.
(Also: It looks pretty cool.)
Ponder this for a second: Fandom is an odd thing.
You follow a team for whatever reason. Your dad loved them. They had cool uniforms when you were a kid. Most likely, they happen to wear your city’s name on their jerseys.
And you stick with them when they lose lose lose lose because when they finally WIN, the victory is so much sweeter.
Sound familiar this week?
But like love, I don’t think fandom should be blind. You can love your brother, but after so many years of him sleeping on your couch, you’re going to yell at him to get his own place. You can love your friends, but a true pal is going to force his alcoholic buddy to get the rehab he needs—and stay with it until it sticks.
So to bring it back to your email, I stand by my sort-of-tongue-in-cheek-but-not-really 2012 memo begging the NBA to contract the Wizards. It didn’t mean that I stopped loving the team. It did mean that I was frustrated by their death spiral. Weren’t you?? Washington’s 2009-2013 stretch was among the worst five-year runs in pro sports!
And that’s one reason why I’ve felt mixed about their wins. Excited, because there’s nothing better than watching a team exceed your expectations. Thrilled, to see Nene play up to every individual expectation that I had when he arrived in D.C.
Concerned because—as even Leonsis admits!—it’s way too early to say mission accomplished.
The Wizards are 163-315 since 2008, and the only reason the team even had a winning record this year was because the East was so damn lousy. I think you’ve done a good job of making an important point throughout this season: That the franchise can’t simply run it back with the same crew next year.
Don’t you think the worst-case scenario is the Wizards pushing the Bulls to seven, everyone applauding the effort, and the front office bringing back the entire team—Gortat at some inflated salary; Wittman on a new contract—rather than making upgrades?
There’s no guarantee that the same Wizards will be better in 2015. They should be, sure. But lots of promising young teams went astray because of egos, salary cap realities, or, god forbid, injuries.
Which gets back to how I’m trying to watch these playoffs: Attempting to feel no pain and only enjoy the moment.
Friday night has to be the biggest game of the Leonsis era, by far. What’s the lowlight you can remember since Ted took over? I’d nominate this laugher from 2011. Seems like times have changed.
April 24, 3:45 p.m.
Adam McGinnis (@adammcginnis):
Whoa, Dan, I think I hit a sour spot with my smart-ass comments, which obviously come across much harsher online. While the suits in the offices of 601 Fun Street might have a different opinion, I mostly agreed with your tongue-in-cheek piece. Washington’s 2009-2013 stretch was among the worst five-year runs in pro sports!
Oh yeah, it was a long, hard time during the lows. The struggle was real outchea in those D.C. streets for Wiz fans. One good friend still calls them the Harry Potters. It is my own fault for showing her the “Did the Wizards Win Last night?” website.
The first Wizards press conference that I attended, in March 2010, Flip Saunders opened up by lambasting Andray Blatche for not going back in the game. This was on the same night that the team promoted Blatche for the NBA’s “Most Improved Player” award.
Months later, Gilbert Arenas was sentenced to a halfway house. My other Agent Zero Arenas media experiences were watching him ignore adoring fans at the George Mason Midnight Madness event in 2010, going full emo-beard on media day, and pretending he was hurt in the pre-season so Nick Young could play. To go from rooting for this player, watching his fall, and then him being unable to mentally come back for the Wizards until being traded away to the Magic, it was a traumatic experience for a fan and eventual blogger. The Arenas implosion stung the deepest, but Monumental’s purposeful road of destruction has also been painful medicine to ingest.
Extending Ernie Grunfled was probably the lowest for me, because I still don’t understand the move and it still is the number one issue most fans bring up (aside from changing the Wizards nickname). From an organizational aspect, the nadir was Blatche and McGee fighting at a club over a groupie. They both got suspended a game, but the idea that this frontcourt was going to produce winning basketball around John Wall was officially over. (I did pour some out when Jordan Crawford was given away.)
I do like that Ted has been measured, but after all the playoff disappointments of the Caps under his watch, this is a normal human feeling. The Wizards are not losing this series, so I will not offer up an answer to your worst-case scenario question.
Let’s talk about these Wizards. How hype is the crowd going to be this weekend? How do you feel about Wizards in these two games? Nene has worked Joakim Noah. Can that keep up? Will some Wizard take out Hinrich with a cheap shot? What kind of moves do you see Flappy Bird (Coach Thibs) making? Are you down with #RespectWitt? His decision to leave Booker in to close out game and stick Ariza on Augustin needs more recognition. The Wizards’ D has also been better than Chicago’s vaunted one.
Plus, the Wizards are going to be on ESPN and ABC this weekend. HOLY SMOKES, BATMAN.
April 24, 9:45 p.m.
Dan Diamond (@ddiamond):
And you know the Wizards will be the focus in-studio: Bill Simmons is going to gloat about picking Washington in this series. Deservedly, I think. As you pointed out, Simmons was basically flying solo among national pundits. (And that brings up a related question: Why did so many analysts get this series so wrong, anyway?)
Adam, you didn’t offend—I’m #ChillBruh. But I just love to muse on why we do the things we do, whether root for teams or write for websites. Or fight over groupies at a club.
The sociology of sports intrigues me. Something that doesn’t: Breaking down game film. Probably because I’m not very good at it.
So when you ask what Thibodeau and the Bulls will do to counter the Wizards—well, I’m not creative enough to think about plays that the Bulls haven’t run or rotations they haven’t tried. Maybe get Dunleavy more looks on the perimeter? Or go to Boozer more to generate offense? I know Thibodeau is constrained by his limited roster, but his rigid approach doesn’t seem to be doing him any favors.
You’re better at knowing the game than me: What moves do the Bulls have left? Or did we see all the tricks in Thibs’ tank during the regular season, and we’re watching his undermanned team run out of steam, 53-minute playoff games by Jimmy Butler at a time?
Meanwhile, I’m curious where the Wiz go from here. I suppose the law of regression means that Nene will stop hitting contested 20-footers at some point soon.
(Although we sometimes forget how good Nene is, because of how much time he’s missed; he’s basically played in just two-thirds of possible games during his career. Which leads to one of my favorite Nene stats: In the past ten years, Nene and Marc Gasol essentially have played the same amount of minutes and produced the same amount of win shares, even though Gasol didn’t enter the league until 2009.)
Or something else that feels possible: Whether Coach Wittman—who has been good, you’re right—is due to make a boneheaded move or three. But can the Wizards defend their home court and close this out by Monday? Or does this series go all the way to six or seven? I’d be afraid of jinxing the team, but you already promised that D.C. will see its first second-round game in a decade.
April 25, 12:15 a.m.
Adam McGinnis (@adammcginnis):
What makes pro athletes or humans tick is always a fascinating endeavor. I do not possess enough degrees to dive deep into those psychological questions. My high-brow analysis only goes to complaining about too many mid-range attempts.
In calling attention to the lack of national respect for Washington by pundits, the point that I emphasized was a majority of them not factoring in Nene’s absence in the Bulls’ April victory over the Wizards. Then the Nene Easter game transpired and his overtime burst in Game 2 was crucial in the Windy City sweep. The line is open for those wanting to shower me with gratitude. #HUMBLEBRAG.
Chicago was granted the experience nod, while Trevor Ariza is the only player in this series with a championship ring and his historic season was never recognized by anyone, until today.
TAI’s Adam Rubin presented evidence that a similar situation happened when the Wizards defeated the Bulls in 2005. Chicago had a great second half of the season, while the Wizards hovered around .500, but it didn’t stop Washington from pulling it out.
Simply, all these experts wanted a Bulls-Heat Eastern Conference Finals.
Kyle and I did a video Hangout on Wednesday night in our Pixel-and-Roll series and we gushed away about the maturity displayed by Big Panda, Bradley Beal. Joakim Noah remarked to me a few weeks ago that Bradley can’t even buy a beer yet, but yet his poise down the stretch in both United Center wins was that of a grizzled vet.
The Wizards are showing the makings of a team that just flipped a switch for the playoffs, which is crazy for a franchise that sat with a 5-28 record just 15 months ago.
Do they go back? The major flaw of this team throughout the 2013-14 campaign has been there propensity to throw up stinkers at home, especially against lesser competition. With a packed crowd plastered in red, white and blue T-shirts, the atmosphere should be electric and the odds the guys are not hyped up seem low. There might be a light concern that Wall and Beal could be too jacked for their first postseason home games. But those two don’t allow jitters bother them for long though.
I will leave you with one question.
Olivia is a Bulls fan that I interact with on Twitter and she boasted of getting a tramp stamp of her Tom Thibodeau avatar if the Bulls won the title. She even called out the Cavs fan who welched on his Anthony Bennett proclamation.
Olivia has now started to backtrack somewhat and even got a little nervous when I responded to her tweet by suggesting that if Bulls lose to the Wizards that she has to get ink of G-Wiz, or have @Wzznuttz decide. My choices did not go over well. I have been relentlessly ripping on Chicago all week so it is only a matter of time before she mutes me. She has tossed around the threat. Oh, and the Thibs tat is terrifying.
Rod Strickland hot dog? Lap Dance Tuesday? Abe Lincoln tat à la Deshawn? Cook Book No. 35? Realistically, I would probably go with an old-school Bullets logo on my arm somewhere.
What does this have to do with anything? Well, I am running out of things to say on this exchange because two days is way too long in between these high intense battles. Washington has divinity on their side against the haters.
I still have something left to mock this Bulls fan, seriously bruh?
April 25, 6:45 a.m.
Dan Diamond (@ddiamond):
Two words: Finger guns.