Here with your semi-regular look at the Wiz is Mr. Irrelevant contributing writer Bryan Frantz.
Let’s recap the Wizards season so far.
They were really good up until the end of January, going 31-15 through January 27.
Then they were
godawful and excruciating to watch not as good the next five weeks, falling to 35-28 in a brutal stretch that included losses to cellar-dwellers such as the 76ers and Timberwolves (back-to-back in fact, by a combined 28 points).
Now, they appear to have regained at least some of their early magic, winning four games in a row by an average of 18 points an sitting at a very respectable 39-28.
So the million dollar question: Are the Wizards good again?
The answer, unfortunately, is an anticlimactic and somewhat discouraging, “umm, hmm … maybe?”
ZOMG THEY’RE THE BEST IN THE NBA!!!!
On the one hand, the Wiz Kids are finally healthy, for the most part, and have the aforementioned win streak to boast. The teams they took down, with their records through Tuesday in parentheses, were the Hornets (29-37), Grizzlies (47-21), Kings (22-44) and Trail Blazers (44-21).
While the Hornets and Kings games are negligible in the grand scheme of things, the Wizards desperately needed wins and one mark of a quality team is being able to defeat the teams that you are objectively better than (looking at you, Redskins). Sorry, Charlotte and Sacramento fans, but the Wizards are objectively better than your teams this year.
But beating the Grizzlies and Blazers within a few days of each other is nothing to scoff at. If the season ended today, they would represent the second and third seeds, respectively, in the West. Neither would be a surprise to make the conference finals.
Well Shit, The Wizards Still Suck
On the other hand, those impressive wins against the Western elite weren’t actually as impressive as they seemed at first glance.
Memphis head coach David Joerger rested most of his star players, a la Gregg Popovich, and the Grizzlies lineup was a mere shell of its imposing self. While it likely wasn’t meant as a sign of disrespect, and the game happened to come at a time when the team needed rest, John Wall took it as a big middle finger and responded with one of his better games of late.
Point guard Mike Conley was legitimately injured, but Tony Allen, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph all had the night off, despite a national TV audience, so that win was nothing that the Wizards should be especially proud of.
Beating the Blazers was cool, and their two stars, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldrige, both played. It’s less impressive, though, when taking into account that Portland is still acclimating to the loss of Wesley Matthews, who tore his Achilles tendon in early March and is out for the year.
Matthews who put up 15.9 points per game this season, which would be good for second on the Wizards in scoring (Wall is good for 17.3). His 2.9 three-pointers per game would easily lead the Wiz, which has no on making even two per game, and he would be second (behind Wall) in steals per game at 1.3.
For some perspective for those who don’t watch a lot of Blazers games, Matthews puts up similar numbers to Bradley Beal, yet also adds the perimeter defense Washington lost when Trevor Ariza departed in the offseason. So yeah, they lost a huge part of their team.
The Wizards seem to lose the 21-year-old Beal to injury every other week at this point, which is profoundly shitty for all parties, but they’re also almost used to it by now; they know how to play without Beal (you’ll notice I didn’t say they know how to win without him).
Matthews hadn’t missed a game since the 2012-13 season and had missed just 13 games over his five-plus seasons in the league before the injury. The Blazers hadn’t played without him in a long time, and both their offense and defense were visibly out of sync against the Wizards.
Then there’s the ugly reality that the Wizards blew yet another huge lead in that game. Washington was up by 25 but let that lead dwindle to just three before ultimately closing it out, and while people who watch too many sports movies will tell you “a win is a win,” it’s getting really tiring watching this team consistently implode late in games.
During the recent skid, the Wizards developed this pesky habit of building big leads in the first half or third quarter and then letting the other team back in the game. Sometimes Washington pulls out the win anyway, often it does not. To be fair, this is not a new phenomenon, it just turned into a pattern around mid-February.
Come On, Give Us Something
So here’s the situation: The Wizards embark on a four-game road trip out west beginning tonight in Utah.
Despite their less-than-terrifying 30-36 record, the Jazz are the hottest team in the NBA right now, having won six in a row and 11 of 13 since the All-Star break. They’ve beaten teams the Blazers (pre-Matthews injury), the Spurs (fully intact), the Grizzlies (not fully intact but more so than when the Wizards played them) and the Rockets (mostly healthy) — all soon-to-be Western playoff teams.
Utah has looked as good in the past month as it has since that little white guy with the short shorts played.
The next game is against the 43-25 Clippers, followed by what should be a laugher in Sacramento, then what could be a ridiculously fun game against the Warriors. Golden State holds the league’s best record at 53-13, and their second-best player recently shattered the NBA scoring record for a quarter with a preposterous 37 points. With the game being played in Golden State (that’s Oakland, Shaq) and that Steph Curry character planning on lacing up the sneakers, this game might not actually be very fun after all.
The Wizards have just 15 games remaining on the schedule, and this is unquestionably the most difficult stretch of those 15. Nobody — I repeat, nobody — expects them to sweep the road trip.
If the House of Guards can Frank Underwood its way to even two wins in those four games, the trip will have been a successful one. If the Wizards win three, or by some act of God or Gilbert Arenas, they win four, then it’s safe to say they’re back on track.
If they lose three or four games, however, the Wiz could very well be on their way to a trainwreck ending to what began as a fairy tale season.