TAI Wizards Roundtable: Rising Approval Ratings & The Playoffs Ahead
#1. Now that we are in Round 2, how do you see the rest of the playoffs going?
Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20)
In a way, I wish the Chicago Bulls would have stretched the series to a Game 6 (Game 7 would have been cutting it too close), so this young Wizards team could feel the type of urgency, pressure, and increased scrutiny that will be coming to them in Round 2. The Bulls played their short-handed hearts out in this series, but the Wizards played harder and—as Daft Punk once said—were better, faster, stronger. There was a certain inevitability in the outcome of the Wizards and Bulls series and it wasn’t a matter of whether the Wizards would win, but more a matter of how many games it would take.
If Atlanta beats Indiana, they will have even more confidence than they had at the start of the playoffs, along with more scoring weapons (Jeff Teague, Lou Williams, Paul Milsap, Kyle Korver, and even 17-points-in-a-quarter Mike Scott. If the Pacers win, they will overcome ragged play, teammates fighting and Roy Hibbert’s disappearance to beat a scrappy Hawks team. Regardless of
which team wins the Hawks vs. Pacers series, the Wizards will have to dig deeper (not just emotionally, but also literally—Wittman will need Martell Webster, Drew Gooden or maybe even Garrett Temple to contribute), keep their tempers in check, and avoid offensive and defensive lapses to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. In a Hawks vs. Wizards series, the Wizards win in six. In a Pacers vs. Wizards series, the Wizards will fall victim to a Pacers rejuvenation and lose in Game 7.
Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks)
What seemed very much “Whoa, bro” just two weeks ago is now acceptable to openly discuss: your 44-win Wizards could make the Eastern Conference Finals. Of course, that’s a “could.” Some might wish for a series against the Indiana Pacers: a sexier, more intriguing matchup that would warrant national eyes and national words and national fawning. But think of your children, and your children’s children, or if you don’t want children or for your children to have children, think of your cat, and its judging eyes. What will you tell your cat if you hope for a Wizards vs. Pacers series and then the Pacers stop hating each other long enough to remember that they know how to beat other NBA teams? The Wizards could win either series, and I think they will. In a Wizards vs. Hawks series: Wizards in six. In a Wizards vs. Pacers series: Wizards in six.
Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)
One can #PraiseNene for the Brooklyn Nets and their decision to punt the final game of the season to earn themselves a possible matchup with the Miami Heat. Not only was it the highest form of hubris to assume that they were/are going to get past the Toronto Raptors and their rabid fans, but it assured the Wizards a matchup with a team that is so dysfunctional that one star is calling for the benching of another (Paul George on Roy Hibbert) or a 8-seed playing so far above its collective heads that Brooklyn must be ruing its decision to give The Captain the keys to the car in that final game. Like Icarus, the Nets have flown too close to the sun, and I believe that the Raptors will bounce them back to my neighborhood. I then think the the Raptors do the unthinkable and upset the Heat, because I am still not convinced the Heat have and answer for a brawling frontline designed to pummel them into submission. As for the Wizards, I foresee a matchup with the Pacers that goes to seven games with the Wizards ultimately prevailing. Lance Stephenson will be suspended for hard fouling John Wall and Trevor Ariza will lose his chill at least twice. This will set up the eventual Raptors vs. Wizards matchup that no one wanted to see and David Silver will be forced to learn the names of all the players on the Wizards bench. It will be glorious.
Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)
Washington’s biggest weakness in the regular season was consistency. Not anymore. From the first possession of Game 1 (where all five Washington defenders made a bold statement by picking up their Bulls counterpart beyond the 3-point arc) to the barrage of offensive rebounds to end Game 5, Washington vanquished its old demons. A locked-in Wizards team has no ceiling. Well, the ceiling probably is the Eastern Conference Finals. But that is where Washington is headed, come Atlanta or Indiana. And when they get there, Miami will be surprised to see a Washington team that looks and plays nothing like its regular season incarnation. And when it’s all said and done I see Lebron James—fresh off a hotly contested six-game series victory—anointing Washington as a team of the future. Let’s just hope the future turns out a little better than the last time the best player in the NBA made a similar declaration.
#2. Whose approval rating has risen the most after Round 1?
Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20)
Nene. As the Denver Nuggets can attest to, Nene does not exactly have the reputation as a durable warrior. When healthy and motivated, Nene can score, rebound (with mediocrity), block shots and provide a physical inside presence. But when Nene is nicked up, there are those pesky minute-limits to contend with and he has his own ideas of how long he should play. But from Game 1 of the series against the Bulls, not only did Nene play hard (and injury-free) in an especially physical series, but he took it to Joakim Noah, the Defensive Player of the Year. It was as if he took Noah’s award as a personal affront, and decided to punish him in the paint as if he
were Michael Jordan and Noah were LaBradford Smith. Of course, Nene did lose his temper and was suspended for a game as a result, but the Wizards’ inability to stop Mike Dunleavy was to blame for that Game 3 loss, not Nene’s absence. When he returned in Game 5, Nene maintained his dominance against Noah, and despite his substandard rebounding reputation, he grabbed two key offensive rebounds to end the game.
Nene averaged 35 minutes a game in a physical series where the referees seemed content with letting the big men play. Nene led by example with his strong play, made a big mistake, and came back to lead the team to victory. So now instead of wondering if Nene can stay healthy and calm in the next series, I’m wondering how Roy Hibbert and David West, or Paul Milsap, and Pero Antic, will deal with the thunder Nene is bringing. I am not shocked the Wizards beat the Derrick Rose-less Bulls, but I am shocked—eight out of ten on the shock value scale—that the Wizards beat the Bulls at their own defensive game.
Conor Dirks (@ConorDDirks)
Randy Wittman. During the regular season, the Wizards were unpredictable; whether it was #WittmanJava laced with barbiturates or just a simple lack of sustainability in the game plan from game to game, the fault for an underachieving team was justifiably spread evenly, as if from the basketball god responsible for the pantheon’s accounting, between Ernie Grunfeld and Wittman. “It’s not Randy’s fault he has the worst bench in the NBA,” they would say, early in the year. “It’s not Ernie’s fault that Randy can’t use these pieces correctly,” they would say, late in the year. Who are they? They are we. (Actually, I don’t think I’ve uttered “It’s not Ernie’s fault” in any context in the last half-decade or so. Moving on!)
At halftime of Game 1, Wittman’s Wizards had their awakening. Since then, the effort issues have disappeared, the heads have not hung when the shots don’t fall (and, let’s be clear, a lot of these shots are still not ideal), and most importantly, the Wizards have made up for their weaknesses by playing great defense, keeping the other team on their heels with stars du jour, and finding open 3-point shooters. Just as Randy was partially to blame for underachievement during the season, he’s partially deserving of praise for the playoff over-achievement. Am I shocked the Wizards beat the Bulls? Hell no. Two out of ten on the shock scale. Am I shocked the Wizards beat the Bulls as soundly, and as consistently, as they did? Hell yes. Seven out of ten on the shock scale.
Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)
Once you sit down with the monster and have tea, it immediately becomes less frightening. Such was the case with Bulls, who from 30,000 feet above the fray appeared to be world-devouring monsters, but up close resembled a one dimensional Pokemon, capable of only one attack and highly susceptible to different types of weapons. This is a roundabout way of stating that Randy Wittman’s stock is on the rise after the first round of the playoffs, as he thoroughly out-coached the supposedly brilliant Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau’s rigidity doomed the Bulls, as refusing to play his one true offensive weapon (Carlos Boozer) in the fourth quarter until the series was all but over demonstrated a lack of tactical awareness that has to call into question his ability to make adjustments with self-limiting personnel. Randy Wittman on the other hand, coached his suit off for the entire series, and earned himself at least a two-year extension in the offseason. Whether it was pinning John Wall to the bench in game one for the more effective Andre Miller, coaching the team through Nene’s suspension or devising a comprehensive strategy that rendered DPOY Joakim Noah all but useless—it was a coaching clinic from a man who has been oft-maligned for his substitution patterns and inability to get the most out of his talent. If Wittman’s future wasn’t so closely tied to that of Ernie Grunfeld, there would most likely be more praise being lobbed in his direction. However, as long as the other monster looms in the background and casts a pall over the organization, no fan of the Wizards is likely to to go overboard in praise of Wittman, for fear that it will summon the beast back for another turn at the GM helm.
Adam Rubin (@LedellsPlace)
Trevor Booker. Ariza and Gortat aren’t the only guys playing for a new contract. According to shamsports.com, Washington must tender Booker a $3.42 million qualifying offer to retain him as a restricted free agent this summer. Before the Bulls series that would have been a near impossibility. Now? Where would Washington be without Booker? Look at it this way, Kevin Seraphin—who was drafted the same year as Booker yet cannot even get off the bench after four years in the NBA—is due a $3.89 million qualifying offer. Whose agent would you rather be?
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