It seems like only yesterday that Jordan Crawford was hitting game winners and arguing that he should be starting over Bradley Beal. Only 10 months after being traded to the Celtics for pennies on the dollar, the Washington Wizards get to experience the wonder that is Steez as they look to improve to 12-13.
Where and when? This matinee of a game will take place at 1 p.m. in Boston.
Are they good? Against all odds yes, or at least what passes for good in the Eastern Conference. Boston is leading the Atlantic Division with a 12-13 record and the point differential of a 13-14 team. Sure, they've played a very easy schedule and have benefited from good luck with regard to injuries, but coach Brad Stevens and the team's young roster deserves props for making the most out of very limited resources.
Who's out? Boston's missing Rajon Rondo, Washington's missing Al Harrington and Glen Rice, Jr. Bradley Beal and Nene didn't practice yesterday but are expected to be available.
What are they good at? Punching above their weight class. On paper, Boston is one of the most untalented teams in the NBA and aren't particularly well constructed. Jordan Crawford, Jeff Green and the little-used MarShon Brooks are the only natural shot creators and no one on the team is much of a rim protector. Nonetheless, Boston finds itself with a passable offense and the NBA's ninth best defense. Stevens deserves a lot of credit here, as everyone on the team with the exception of Gerald Wallace is as good or better than they were last year when they were playing with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rondo.
The defense has been interesting. Boston's bigs are moving their feet and rotating as well as can be expected and Bradley has been phenomenal at bothering guards at both positions. If any perimeter player is going to win Defensive Player of the Year in the next few years, it should probably be Bradley. Do you remember that game against the Magic from a few years ago where the Magic only scored 56 points and could barely get the ball across halfcourt? Yeah, that was almost all Bradley. Dude can play.
What are they bad at? As much as Crawford, Jared Sullinger (who, by the way, is averaging 14 and seven in 27 minutes a night while making 31 percent of his threes) and Green have tried, Boston's offense just isn't that great. While Crawford has improved as a playmaker over what he was with Washington, he's still not a natural passer and is a less than ideal point guard. Boston is also almost completely devoid of firepower outside of him. Green's had a couple of big games, but at the end of the day, this is a guy who's never scored more than this season's 17.4 points per 36 minutes. Him and Sullinger, while playing better than anyone may have reasonably believed they would, are much better as fourth and fifth options or going against opposing teams' second units than being the second and third guys to get the ball.
How is Jordan Crawford doing it? The former Wizard is averaging 16.4 points, 6.5 assists and 3.9 rebounds per 36 minutes, is posting a career high PER of 18.0 and a true shooting percentage of .552. He's hit multiple enormous shots and even won Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the week of December 9 2013. Yes, even if it was only for one week, a plurality of sports writers and NBA executives and staff thought #steez was better than Lebron James. That is insane.
To his credit, Crawford's doing very well. A lot of it has to do with his his midrange jumper, which has been elite through the first month and a half of the season. The inimitable Kirk Goldsberry covers this more in depth here, but long story short, Crawford has been the best mid-range shooter in the NBA this season, having made 51 percent(!!!) of his two-point jump shots through December 13. He actually has the stroke to be one of the better shooters in the league, but there should eventually be some regression to the mean and I suspect he'll finish the year shooting closer to 45% on these shots. Still, that's really good, and he's going to be a great sixth man some day if he can ever accept coming off the bench longterm.
Who's going to win? It's tough to bet against a team with a better record playing at home, but I suspect Washington makes it three in a row this afternoon. A healthy Washington team is very good and, even with Nene and Beal on a minutes limit, the Wizards should be able to beat Boston simply on account of being a more talented team and possessing a modicum of chemistry. That said, you could say that about almost every team in the NBA, and yet the Celtics would have home court advantage in the first round if the playoffs started today. If Boston wins, it's going to be because Bradley is so disruptive to Wall that Washington's offense falls apart for long stretches of the game.
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