Opening Statements: Wizards vs Bulls, Game 77
As Tom Thibodeau alluded to in his pre-game presser Saturday night, this is an exciting time of year in the NBA–especially in the Eastern Conference. The Heat and the Pacers are tied for the number one seed; the Raptors and Bulls are tied for the number three seed; the Bobcats, Wizards and Nets are separated by just three and a half games; and the Hawks have just a one game lead over the Knicks for the eighth spot … with the Cavaliers lurking. No first-round playoff game is set in stone, no travel arrangements can be made, and presumably scouting at this juncture is a bit of challenge.
Despite this abundance of excitement, Coach Thibodeau and Randy Wittman’s respective jobs are to keep their teams even-keeled, prepared, and ready to play one game at a time. Thibodeau’ has the easier job of the two coaches, because the Bulls have endured countless playoff battles with and without their All-Star, Derrick Rose. What the Bulls lack in talent is more than made up via defense, hustle, hard work, and coaching.
Coach Wittman’s task figures to be a bit more difficult. He does have veterans like Andre Miller, Trevor Ariza, Al Harrington, Drew Gooden, Nene, and Marcin Gortat, who are playoff-tested and can share their knowledge with the team. But the starting backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal are still riding the high of just qualifying for the postseason, and there is really no way for either of them to be prepared for the intensity of the playoffs (although most games against the Bulls should have the intensity and physicality of a playoff atmosphere).
In their first game after qualifying for the playoffs, the Wizards gutted out a tough road victory against a New York Knicks team desperate to qualify for the eighth and final spot. After Saturday night’s loss to Chicago, Coach Randy Wittman took responsibility for not having his team ready, while Coach Thibodeau had his guys focused and energized as usual. The end result was the Wizards putting out one of their poorest efforts of the season, and the Bulls won, 96-87.
Before the game, both coaches (sans emotion, I might add) cautioned against looking ahead and spoke about the upcoming matchup, which could also certainly be a future playoff matchup:
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