Washington is currently on pace to win 47 games this season, which would be the greatest Wizards/Bullets season in nearly 40 years. The losing streak in February set us back quite a bit but as long as the Wizards don't have another meltdown, this year will be considered a major success for a franchise that has long been considered snake bitten. There are many things this kind of success can be attributed to. Factors such as John Wall having another career year or Paul Pierce becoming a vocal veteran leader in the locker room have been key. A more pessimistic view would be that Washington has just capitalized on a weakened Eastern Conference, or that this starting unit has always been good enough but Randy Wittman has held them back. All of these reasons would be correct but one factor that many people haven't considered is that our schedule this year has been absolute cake.
During our early season winning streaks, the Wizards had the benefit of playing the league's second easiest schedule. This led many people to be skeptical of Washington's sudden rise to prominence. Of course when February began the Wizards were losing so much that the strength of their schedule became an afterthought. Now that they have emerged on the other side of that slump, another look at the schedule is warranted. The Wizards now have the 26th easiest schedule in the NBA, with an SOS (strength of schedule) rating of .490. However at this point in the season, most team's SOS ratings are very similar. In fact the team with the highest SOS rating (Lakers) vs. the team with the lowest SOS rating (Knicks) is only a .031 difference. So while the Wizards have a very real, tangible advantage with strength of schedule it is not the main reason this schedule is so beneficial.
As Marc Stein reported on Friday there is a league-wide problem right now with scheduling imbalances that tip the scales to certain teams. One such problem is that there is a very large disparity when it comes to the most valuable games on any team's schedule: Playing after a night off against a team on the second night of a back-to-back. While the Dallas Mavericks have had more of these types of games (18) than anyone else, the Wizards have taken advantage of those opportunities (17) better than any other team in the league. In fact, the Wiz have won more of these types of games than anyone else at 13. Here's the full list:
Graph created by Marc Stein of ESPN from "West/East gap isn't only schedule imbalance"
This graph can be very discouraging when you look at how many times the Wizards have received this advantage compared to teams like Cleveland or Atlanta who've only gotten it 3 or 4 times yet still have a worse record. One aspect we can take solace in is that the Wizards have taken advantage of these games, posting a .765 win percentage. The league average for winning these games is .562. If the Wizards were winning these games at that league average clip, they would lose 3 wins and get bumped back down to 10. If this was the case then Washington would be on pace to only win 44 games this season, which wouldn't eclipse last season's win total. So it's actually very fair to say that the Wizards might not be having their best season since 79' if it wasn't for such an advantageous schedule.
Photo credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Washington's newest player didn't really move the needle when he was acquired during the trade deadline. The trade for Sessions was mostly seen as a lateral move that simply placed a younger body in place of Andre Miller, who was getting a little long in the tooth for Grunfeld's liking. Many commenters were quick to point out that Sessions' only real strength was his ability to get to the foul line and that he would be a liability on defense. To the surprise of many, Sessions has been a shot in the arm for this squad and has had an instantaneous impact on the way the Wizards play basketball.
The biggest change that Ramon has brought about in the Wizards is how Randy Wittman uses him in games. His main role is obviously to run the point with the bench unit, which he has done well. But what is most interesting is that Wittman has begun using him alongside John Wall, which is something he didn't really do with Andre Miller around. This option gives the Wizards added versatility in small-ball situations or when Bradley Beal needs a rest, which is the advantage of having a combo guard such as Sessions. Having them both in the game at the same time can lead to magical moments such as this:
During these last six games, Sessions has posted a +/- of +40 overall. Surprisingly, most of that production has not come from the offensive side of the ball. Ramon Sessions has actually been sneakily one of the best defenders in the league since joining the Wizards. Trust me, I didn't believe it either but NBA.com currently lists Ramon as the league leader in defensive rating:
Ramon Sessions still was not the sexy trade we desired during the trade deadline, but it has turned out about as well as anyone could have expected it to. He probably won't be able to sustain his defensive production but he has undoubtedly been a major upgrade over Andre Miller.
Photo credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
#KSLife had a tough week. Due to Grew Gooden's resurgence in the lineup, Seraphin has been seeing much more time on the bench. Over this last week he averaged a mere 9.7 minutes per game and the only reason it's even that high is because he got a decent amount of garbage time against the Clippers Friday. His scoring was slashed to a depressing 4.6 points per game despite shooting 53% from the field and he hasn't contributed in any other meaningful way. It appears that Seraphin has once again found himself in Randy Wittman's doghouse.
In order to earn minutes back he will have to be more aggressive in the post because that's far and away the strongest part of his game. His inability to rebound well or defend the rim are glaring weaknesses for the young frenchman. It's a disappointing development because if he could shore up another facet of his game he could be a long-term answer at back-up center for the Wiz. At this point, Gooden's ability to shoot from long range is just more valuable than Seraphin's skill set. Keep shooting dem' hook shots Kevin, hopefully you can get hot before the playoffs roll around because I've got a bad feeling about Drew Gooden being our glue guy off the bench again.
Coming into this week, Wizards fans were a strange position. There was a growing sense of optimism surrounding Washington after rattling off wins against Charlotte, Memphis, and Sacramento by an average of 20.6 points each. Despite the win streak, many people weren't yet convinced that the Wizards had turned the corner quite yet. All of the losing in February had just made that kind of pessimism hard to shake. John Wall and company needed another big week to let everyone know that they were really back.
Photo credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
The game against Portland was an important one. It was to be the last game of the Wizards home-stand before they embarked on a tough road trip against some tough Western Conference competition in the Jazz, Clippers, Kings, and Warriors. Washington needed to capitalize on the very real boost they seemed to get at home in order to compensate for their typically dreadful play on the road.
In the first half they did not disappoint, the Wizards jumped out to a 20-point lead going into halftime and expanded that to a 25-point lead with 8 minutes remaining in the third. Unfortunately, they let the comfort of that lead lull them to sleep. Portland came storming back and cut the lead to just 3 at one point. The Wizards went a full 5:30 of game-time without scoring a single field goal, which allowed the Trailblazers run. Bradley Beal mercifully put a stop to the run with a three-pointer with about 8 minutes remaining and the Blazers never got back within 4. John Wall nearly messed around and got a triple-double with 21 points, 11 assists, and 9 rebounds but Bradley Beal was the true hero of the game. Without his 23 points and 7 assist game the Blazers very well may have completed that comeback. When Beal is hot (he shot 4-4 from deep) and alongside a healthy starting unit, Washington is one of the best teams in the league. This win was huge for the Wizards. Read the recap here.
Oh! Also, Nene did this:
Photo credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports
Wednesday night's game pitted the Wizards against a team that on paper, was the most low-profile team of their 7-game tour of Western Conference opponents. However, since the All-Star Break something had changed the Utah Jazz into the the hottest team in basketball. That something was Rudy Gobert. Winners of 6 in a row and 11 of 13, the Jazz had become elite defenders and held opponents to a LUDICROUS 82.8 points per game since the ASB. If there was ever a game that the Wizards would stumble through, it would be this one.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Wizards brought the Jazz back down to Earth. While their shutdown defense was still very much a factor, Washington was able to flex their defensive muscles as well. The Wizards actually shot very well from the field (52.4%) and even better from long range (54.5%), but they could only manage 88 points due to the Jazz forcing 22 turnovers. Although the Wizards couldn't force nearly as many turnovers they held Utah to 41.5% shooting. The real key stat to Utah's offensive struggles though was that they shot twice as many three pointers (22 to our 11) but still converted less than we did (4 to our 6). Missing at that rate from deep allowed Washington to gobble up 35 defensive rebounds and keep Gobert from dominating the boards. Although Rudy was able to keep Gortat and Seraphin from having a big impact on this game, he was clearly not his normal game-changing self. In fact, Gobert posted a game-low -13 in the plus/minus column. Washington had now rattled off 5 in a row against quality competition and suddenly this West-coast road trip didn't look quite so much like a death march. Read the recap here.
Photo credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
I said in last week's summation that I had a bad feeling that Chris Paul would get the best of John Wall for this one. Boy, I hate being right all the time. Chris Paul had a field day against Wall and the Wizards, he notched 30 points and 15 assists (with just a single turnover!). In fairness Wall was no slouch himself (19 points, 10 assists), but Paul definitely owned the day. Ramon Sessions got his opportunity to D up Chris Paul in this game as well, but even the league leader in defensive rating couldn't stop the Point God.
The Wizards were in the game until the last few minutes in the 4th. Every time the Wizards came close to rallying the Clippers would just push them away again. There would be long shooting slumps for Washington where nothing seemed to drop that killed their momentum multiple times. It didn't help that the Wizards settled for 9 mid-range jumpers in the 4th quarter, only making two of them. In one especially infuriating sequence Wall, Beal, and Nene all took mid-range jumpers from the left-elbow within a minute and a half of each other and all of them were clunkers. Despite the loss, you had to know the Wizards were going to come back down to Earth sooner or later. Read the recap here.
This coming week, the Wizards will split their time on the road and in the comfort of the Verizon Center against two Western teams and two Eastern teams. Despite playing the undisputed best team in the league right now, the other three games next week will be very winnable and could provide an opportunity for Washington to continue this hot streak they have been riding.
Photo credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Just 8 days after our last meeting with Sacramento, we will once again do battle with Boogie Cousins and his dysfunctional band of misfits on Sunday. The only difference this time is that this game will be on their home turf, and they will not be on the tail end of a grueling road trip. Sacramento's luck has not changed much since we last saw them. George Karl is still having a difficult time motivating his team, their front office is a bunch of meddlesome morons, and they are still very much out of playoff contention.
It's gotten to the point where we should all feel bad for DeMarcus Cousins. He deserves better. Do you remember when Boogie was doing everything for the Kings? They were winning games and he was in the conversation to win the MVP. Then he got sick, the front office fired a coach that he'd finally found a trust with, and they've been in a freefall ever since. Now he's still doing everything for the Kings but they can't help but lose. #PrayforBoogie. The Wizards should win this one by ten or more.
Photo credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
To close out Washington's road trip on Monday they will have to go through the juggernaut of the league the Golden State Warriors. They need no introduction other than 56-13, the best record in the league and MVP candidate Stephen Curry. The Wizards will have their hands full here, especially John Wall. John may have won the Battle of the Gamechangers competition back during the All-Star Break, but Stephen Curry has maintained one of the most historically great seasons of all time. Hopefully John can stifle Stephen enough to keep him from going off on us again.
During their last meeting on February 24th, Washington gave Golden State a run for their money by shooting 53.2% from the field and sticking around late. Stephen Curry killed us with 32 points and the Dubs closed it out late in the game to win 114-107, but it was a moral victory of sorts for us. Unfortunately, I don't see us overachieving and getting anything other than another moral victory. The Warriors are just too damn good.
Photo credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports
The Wizards will return home to the Verizon Center to play the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night. The Pacers are currently right in the thick of the race for the 7 and 8-seed in the Eastern Conference. Indiana has been a tough team to figure out. Starting in early February they were the team to beat in the East, winning 12 of 14 before suddenly losing 4 in a row last week.
Paul George seemed to balk at the idea of coming back this season since the team was playing well without him, but now that the Pacers are beginning to struggle again we may see PG back before the playoffs. Either way, the Wizards won't have to contend with the two-time all-star on Wednesday. However, they will have to deal with Roy Hibbert who has become the leader of this squad. He's still an elite rim defender and is a big reason the Pacers are currently ranked the third best defense in the league behind only Utah and Memphis. If Gortat can be effective down low and the Wizards can keep one of the many Pacers guards from having a big night, then Washington should come away with a W.
Photo credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Earlier in the month before we faced Charlotte, we were already chalking up a loss because this team had dominated us the past few years. Luckily our fortunes changed and we blew out the Hornets so thoroughly that I don't think any Wizards fan should be afraid of them ever again. The Hornets are in a very similar situation as the Pacers in that they are in the hunt for the 7 and 8-seed in the East but cannot play consistently enough to stay there. They have dropped their last 3 games including an absolute blowout against the Jazz in which they were held to an embarrassing 66 points.
Kemba Walker's return comes at the right time for Charlotte to make this last-ditch effort for the playoffs. He isn't back to full speed quite yet, averaging 10.8 points and 3.2 assists in his 5 games back. Compared to his season averages of 17.9 PPG and 5.1 APG, he has quite a bit of work to do to become the leader he once was for this team. Look for Nene to have a big game against Cody Zeller, whose presence in the NBA is an absolute mystery. The Wizards should have no problem against the Hornets, unless that strange curse we have against them rears its ugly head again.
In Case You Missed It:
G-Wiz was Robin Lopez's latest victim in his spree of mascot hate crimes. SOMEBODY STOP THIS PSYCHOPATH!
Wall sacrifices his body to save this loose ball late in the 4th.
Paul Pierce is one cold-blooded mutha *beeeep* as he dribbles out the clock after swiping the game-sealing steal.
Speaking of cold-blooded *expletive deleted* dudes.
Marcin Gortat took exception to certain fans calling him out after being fined for flopping against the Jazz.
@anur_7 stop crying
— Marcin Gortat (@MGortat) March 19, 2015
@iam_aalxx u have to win at least street-ball tournament or something before u get to play pro!
— Marcin Gortat (@MGortat) March 19, 2015
@FanDuelRoyal ur mama was weak last night
— Marcin Gortat (@MGortat) March 19, 2015
Matt Barnes looked completely lost after John Wall did this to him.
Does anyone else hate Blake Griffin? I can't stand Blake Griffin.
This is a random one but comedian Adam Newman absolutely rails on the Wizards and their game-day experience. Thanks to averagebro for finding this one. (Looks like this is from last year, but still hilarious)
Comment Of The Week:
This comment was regarding Bradley Beal's growth during the Wizards vs. Jazz recap thread. There was a collection of users who were hating on Beal's disappointing season, and nichobert put them all in their place.