The season where the Wizards became a nationally relevant team culminates today as the Wizards host one of the NBA's hottest teams Sunday afternoon in front a national audience on ABC. The game is the Wizards' first appearance on ABC for a regular season game since April 15, 2007 when they lost to the Bulls 101-68.
The Wizards weren't able to put their best foot forward in that game, because Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler were out with season-ending injuries. The Wizards had to roll out a starting lineup of Donnell Taylor, DeShawn Stevenson, Jarvis Hayes, Antawn Jamison and Etan Thomas. Stevenson, Jamison and Hayes combined to go 11-41 from the field in a game that was even less competitive than the box score would indicate.
As the Wizards make their return to ABC on Sunday, they're once again in a position where they may not be able to put their best foot forward. Yes, their stars are healthy, but they haven't been playing at the level that earned them a spot in today's national showcase. Since the NBA announced the Wizards would play the Rockets on ABC, the Wizards are 16-20, with the 20th best point differential in the league over that span, behind such teams as the Heat, Celtics, and Pistons.
Where and when: The Washington Wizards host the Houston Rockets at the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 pm. You can watch the game on ABC (no local coverage today), or join the #radioparty on 99.1 WNEW.
Who's out? The Wizards will likely be without Kris Humphries and Garrett Temple. The Rockets will be without Patrick Beverley, Terrence Jones and Kostas Papanikolaou.
What's at stake? For the Wizards, a win would move them a half-game closer to Toronto in the standings. Remember, the Raptors can't fall below the fourth seed since they're division champions, but the Wizards would still get homecourt advantage if they finish with a better record.
On the flip side, the Rockets could move up to the second seed with a win and a Memphis loss (the Grizzlies play in San Antonio on Sunday evening).
Just how different are these teams? Philosophically, the Wizards and Rockets are just about as opposite as you could get in terms of shot distribution. Even though the Wizards have a higher field goal percentage this season, they're less effective offensively because of where their shots come from.
(Numbers via NBA.com)
The difference in shot distribution translates to two extra points per 100 possessions for the Rockets, even though the Rockets shoot lower percentages from all three areas (paint, mid-range and beyond the arc) than the Wizards.
The Wizards would be well-served going back to served them so well in their 104-103 win in Houston earlier this season. In a game where John Wall wasn't spectacular, Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce came through with big games, earning 16 free throw attempts and making six threes between them. They'll need more of that to keep pace with James Harden, and force him to expend some extra energy on the defensive side.
The good news is, with Patrick Beverley out, the Rockets have had to rely on Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni at point guard, which should make things easier for the Wizards. Even if the Rockets switch Trevor Ariza on to Wall, that will make things easier for either Beal or Pierce, so it's a win-win either way.
Who's going to win? Given how the Wizards have performed lately, you have to give the edge to the Rockets. But don't be shocked if the Wizards make a game of things this afternoon. They should come out with good energy as they have a chance to make a statement against a very good Western Conference team in front of a national audience.