This Isn’t The First Wizards Ride on the Must-Win Rodeo | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

This Isn’t The First Wizards Ride on the Must-Win Rodeo

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Updated: April 8, 2016

One could argue that given the Washington Wizards’ upward arc of success over the last two years—consecutive appearances in second round of the playoffs—they should not currently be in 10th place in the Eastern Conference. In a near-futile fight for their playoff lives.

But as Bill Parcells once famously said, “You are what your record says you are,” and right now the Wizards’ record says they are 38-40 and sitting outside the playoff party hoping to win a berth.

Pinpointing the reason(s) for Washington’s disappointing season seems to be in the eye of the beholder. Ted Leonsis has this season an outlier because of all the injuries (Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Alan Anderson, and Nene have been the biggest offenders). Randy Wittman has been rhapsodic about the powers of defense and his team’s inability to play it on a consistent basis. Marcin Gortat thinks he should get the ball more. Jared Dudley and Bradley Beal have bemoaned the coaching staff’s inability to make the necessary in-game adjustments after the opposing team has removed the Wizards from their collective sweet spots. In reality, all of the above are probably true, but the diversity of answers is just one reason why this team has been struggling.

Despite those struggles, tonight’s matchup against the Detroit Pistons represents a chance for the Wizards to keep their playoffs chances alive for at least another day. If the Wizards win, they stave off elimination, and if they lose, the season ends, and presumably the DNP-rest parade will begin. It is still unknown whether the Wizards will have the services of John Wall, who is currently listed as questionable, but the game remains a must-win with or without him.

There have been subtle roster changes during Washington’s two-year playoff run, but the core of the team (Wall, Beal, Gortat, Nene, and yes, even Wittman) have faced three must-win situations during that span (four if you count Wednesday night’s victory over the Brooklyn Nets). Yes the results have been mixed, but they represent experiences to draw upon nonetheless.

Let’s delve a bit shall we?

2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 6: Hawks 94 – Wizards 91

The outcome and prologue of this gamethe referees waving off Paul Pierce’s 3-pointer after watching the video and realizing it was released after the buzzer—is more memorable than the events that led up to it. That was an agonizing way for the Wizards to lose, and Pierce’s departure for L.A. a couple of months later seemed to deepen the pain, as it represented a slight hiccup in the momentum the Wizards had built up to that point. But the fact is they lost the game much earlier.

The Wizards spent the entire second half of that game trying to catch up to the Hawks, who routinely kept their lead in double-digits. Atlanta had a balanced second-half attack (DeMarre Carroll had 17 points, Jeff Teague 13, and Al Horford 7), while the Wizards were left to rely on Beal, who scored 20 points in the half. Wall gave a valiant, second-half effort—considering his wrist was broken in five places—with nine points and eight assists (ironically enough, he could be hobbled in tonight’s game too), but it was the disappearance of the Wizards’ frontcourt which ultimately cost them.

Pierce, despite his nearly end-of-game heroics, scored just four points in that second half on 1-for-3 shooting. Nene scored just three points in 15 minutes, while Drew Gooden and Kevin Seraphin (who had played well in the first half) combined for just 10. The proverbial sense of urgency that should have been in place, from the coach down to the players, only seemed to be flowing through Beal. Despite playing on their home floor in an elimination game, the Wizards spent the majority of the half trying unsuccessfully to dig themselves out of a hole.

The Wizards will be on the road tonight in Detroit, which means the margin for error is significantly less. Beal figures to reprise his role as the dominant scorer (on limited touches), since he is as healthy as he’s ever going to be. Wall will do yeoman’s work in a limited capacity, if he plays. The questions for the Wizards is: Who’s the next man up?

2014 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 6: Pacers 93 – Wizards 80

[via @recordANDradio]

If the 2015 season-ending loss represented the beginning of the end of an era for the Wizards, the 2014 season-ending loss to the Pacers represented a promising future. The Wizards shocked the Pacers by staving off elimination the previous game (more on that later), and they had a chance to steal Game 6 for an ‘anything goes’ Game 7, but they fell just short.

Washington did not shoot particularly well from the field (39% sunk by a 2-for-18 effort from the 3-point line). Wall and Beal shot a combined 12-for-35. But the Wizards went on an 11-2 run to begin the fourth quarter, and they took the lead when Beal grabbed a rebound, dribbled the length of the basket and did this:

Sadly, almost immediately after Beal’s heroics, David West went on a run of his own and scored eight of Pacers’ next 20 points to put the game away. That Indiana team, despite its internal strife during their 2014 playoff run, was better coached and more experienced. Those things ultimately did in the Wizards.

Trevor Ariza, like Pierce did the following year, bolted out of D.C. for seemingly green pastures. Beal and Wall bawled like babies after the game, but they vowed to return, and they did.

2014 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 5:  Wizards 102 – Pacers 79

This was the only must-win game the Wizards have won in the Wall/Beal era, and this was the most unlikeliest of victories.

In Game 4 of the series, the Pacers went to the Verizon Center and stole a game away from the Wizards late in the fourth. Beal, who is seemingly at the center of these elimination games, had the opportunity to win the game with a 3-pointer with David West’s hand in his face, but he was unable to convert. That homecourt loss put the Wizards down 3-1 and left them visibly dejected heading back to Indiana for an elimination game.

Washington’s starters (the bench was scoreless in the first half) began the game strong and led the Pacers by six at halftime, mostly thanks to Marcin Gortat’s 17 points and 11 rebounds. Defensively, the Wizards limited the Pacers to just 36 percent shooting from the field, which is the type of performance Coach Wittman would surely love to see tonight against the Pistons.

The Wizards all but ended the game in the third quarter by putting their collective feet on the throat of the Pacers. Gortat continued his dominance with another 10 points and five rebounds, but Wall came alive with 17 points in the quarter (6-for-8 from the field, including 3-for-4 from the 3-point line). The Wizards held the Pacers to just 14 third-quarter points on 29 percent shooting (West scored 7 of those points). Washington’s lead was 24 by the end of the quarter, and in a garbage time-filled fourth quarter, the Wizards led by as many as 30 points.

The Wiz ultimately could not carry that supreme confidence over to Game 6, but they were successful in Game 5 because Wall was on his game (27 points), Gortat was on his (31 points and 16 rebounds), and despite the non-existent bench, starters Trevor Ariza (10 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists) and Beal (18 points and eight rebounds) were major contributors.

*****

The Pistons certainly aren’t as good as the Pacers were in 2014 or the Hawks were last season, but, frankly, neither are the Wizards. Despite their 1-2 record in elimination games during the Wall/Beal era, the Wizards have faced this situation before, and they certainly know what type of effort it will take to survive another day. Wall has to fight through his injuries, Beal has to pick up the slack, Sessions or Wall have to get Gortat and Morris engaged, and someone off the bench (maybe Alan Anderson, who is playing tonight) has to play well enough to 1) give the starters a rest, and 2) keep the game close.

A win certainly doesn’t salvage the season, but it does allow them to keep dreaming about an improbable playoff berth. A loss begins the endless speculation about coaching and personnel changes, and the future in general.

As the timeless rap group De La Soul once eloquently said, “The Stakes Is High.”

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Rashad Mobley
Reporter/Writer at TAI
Rashad has been covering the NBA and the Washington Wizards since 2008—his first two years were spent at Hoops Addict before moving to Truth About It. Rashad has appeared on ESPN and college radio, SportsTalk on NewsChannel 8 in Washington D.C., and his articles have appeared on ESPN TrueHoop, USAToday.com, Complex Magazine, and the DCist. He considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a hero and he had the pleasure of interviewing him back in 2009.