It started with Charles Barkley during the All-Star break, who's always been fond of the John Wall-Bradley Beal backcourt. Chuck mentioned the Washington Wizards as the third-best team in a two-team conference. Of course, even back-handed compliments from the national media are in short supply around the Verizon Center.
[In case your eyes are bleeding from playoff overload, the article has been transcribed to YouTube HERE]
Barkley's soundbite, many Wizards fans immediately noted, gave short shrift to a Toronto Raptors squad that regularly gave the Wizards fits and had only improved after dumping Rudy Gay while adding Patrick Patterson. Joakim Noah was busy leading the Chicago Bulls to spitting distance of a 50-win result, while the last game of the season saw the Wizards in danger of falling to the No. 7 seed. Barkley's comment seemed the sad personification of wasted potential Wizards fans greet with unwelcome familiarity.
And yet, the Wizards made the fifth seed with that final game. It took help from a Brooklyn Nets squad dropping their final two tilts in a did-they/didn't-they-tank "scandal" to avoid a first-round matchup with the fourth-seed Bulls. Head coach Jason Kidd brushed off the whole matter, stating the team didn't care about their seed at that point, while Raptors power forward Amir Johnson elected to quote his coach: 'You can't really mess with the basketball gods.'
Whatever else you might say about the team we love, the Washington Wizards have offered the basketball gods their dues. In 2010, D-League call-up Cedric Jackson hit a game-winning three pointer in the final game of the season. The win moved the Wizards from third place in lottery seeding to a tie for fourth, and the coin flip dropped them to fifth. The lottery gave them John Wall and kicked off the rebuild in style.
Last season, the Wizards publicly stated they were battling for the ninth seed around the time GMs are frantically begging coaches to "develop their youth". I loved it, spouting off about how if the Wizards were to solve their road woes, they needed as many full-bore tilts as possible. The Wizards home record this season is identical to last year's, but they have earned 15 more victories on the road. Meanwhile, the Wizards jumped to the third pick and Otto Porter.
While nothing appeals to sportswriters like the basketball gods rewarding fruitless determination, the truth is that last season's (failed, mind you) dash for the ninth seed forced the team to lock in at a time when all a competitor can see is the second season starting without him. So it was that a Wizards team sliding after a boost from the emergence of the AARP unit, Professor Andre Miller and Drew Gooden, presiding, locked in at the end of the regular season and found themselves owners of the No. 5 seed in the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Ain't no luck.
A matchup with the Bulls seemed like a nightmare to several folks. They'd been ripping through teams like tissue paper in the regular season with playoff intensity, a gear Wizards fans have rarely seen from their chosen team and with little consistency. D.J. Agustin had emerged as the Bulls sparkplug point guard in the tradition of Nate Robinson and John Lucas III, also in the mold of small, quick guards that always seem to go off against the Wizards. And while no one would have picked Randy Wittman to outcoach Tom Thibodeau, the latter has fallen prey to his foibles while the former is not only avoiding the bugaboos of the regular season, but gameplanning with real effectiveness and straight countering what Chicago does on the court. Ain't no luck.
What felt like 99 percent of the national media picked the Bulls in 6. Here, Mike Prada reminded the internet Nene was the key to the series. The returned from injury big man is giving the reigning defensive player of the year more than he can handle as the Bulls have posted a defensive rating that would have ranked below all regular season teams save the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. Ain't no luck.
After the abomination of officiating otherwise known as Game 2, despite a rash of free throw shooting that should have damned the Wizards by any measure of reason, they ground their way back on a team that has no other gear to go to. AIN'T NO LUCK.
NBA playoff basketball is where luck goes to die. Fans and media talk about lucky breaks, how it can't be discounted because then the teams did THIS or THAT. When I think about luck in the playoffs, I think about Randy Wittman reminding us your team must be able to survive four or five trips where you get nothing. Or when he talked about figuring out wins where shooting disappears and someone goes 1-16. AIN'T NO LUCK.
So I smiled today, when I read about a heckler telling John Wall the Wizards got lucky.
Turning over his shoulder to spot the heckler, Wall shouted: "Ain’t no luck!"
The series heads to Washington D.C. on Friday with the Wizards up on the Bulls two games to none. However this season turns out, win or lose, don't expect either team to talk about luck. See you all for Game 3.
(If you can't see the video above, click here for the link from Monumental Network.)