As a Wizards fan, you couldn't have asked for a better start to the playoffs. The Wizards have saved their best basketball for the playoffs and suddenly look like a team that will give any team they face a challenge. The top-seeded Atlanta Hawks are banged up and tied in their series with Brooklyn. Kevin Love may miss the rest of the playoffs, and J.R. Smith has been suspended for the next two games for the Cavaliers. And the Chicago Bulls still aren't out of the woods yet in their series against the Bucks.
Even with all those things going in the Wizards' favor, the odds are still stacked against making a deep run, but...
WARNING: Stop reading now if you're trying to keep your expectations in check. Repeat, stop reading now. We won't take it personal.
...there's a chance for a deep run here, and it's got people talking.
Monday, Bill Simmons invited ESPN reporter Brian Windhorst on his podcast to discuss the NBA playoffs. At the 36 minute mark, they make a transition from talking about the Hawks' struggles to discussing the Wizards, who they'll face in the second round if they can survive their series with the Nets. If you were expecting them to downplay the Wizards' chances of advancing, think again:
Simmons: Coach Bud is going to have to get creative if he gets to that next series, because the Wizards, I think, are going to beat them. I just think they're a better team right now. You just watched them for four games, am I crazy? Wouldn't you take the Wizards in that series?
Windhorst: So right now you've got Paul Pierce rising from the dead, absolutely amazing in that series. They have Drew Gooden hitting three pointers. The guy had never hit a three in his playoff career, and it was a pretty extensive playoff career. I think he played 60 playoff games, and he hit six in the last three games, which stretches the floor. You have Gortat - now Gortat is one of the most night and day players in the league - he's getting it done.
And then John Wall, when they have that spread offense, when they have Pierce out there playing four, and the emergence of Otto Porter. In March, Otto Porter averaged 4 points and shot 30 percent in 15 games in March. He shot 60 percent and averaged 11 points in this series. So, you put Otto Porter and Pierce out there, Porter is long defensively, and enables you to cover up for Pierce a little bit at that end, because you can put him on the other power forward, or you can put him on a wing player. The floor is spaced. And when the floor is spaced and you have Marcin Gortat or Nene, like those pile drivers, come up and set a screen for John Wall, it's over. Wall gets the corner turned, and it's over. When he's got those guys hitting shots around him, he finds the loose bolt and hits the guy to get it done.
Now, the Raptors are not a good defensive team anyway. So it's a little bit like, they only had to beat one layer, but that's going to be an issue. The Hawks would match up better, because they're a better team, but that lineup has been successful. And that's the kind of lineup you find and it's sort of like getting a hot goalie. If you get that lineup going and the players get confident...Confidence is so important for guy like Otto Porter, Gortat, or even Drew Gooden. All of the sudden you can get something special there.All the Wizards players last night were sitting in the front row at the Capitals game, and you can sense there team coming together, there might be something special developing in Washington. There just might be.
Simmons: Wow, I'll tell you Joe House and Andrew Sharp just had to go take a walk. Take a lap and regroup after hearing that.
Listen, they've always had good chemistry. Always. Anybody who was in that locker room and around those guys, never doubted the chemistry. I don't think anybody ever doubted the talent. To me, it was just a flat-out coaching debacle, and he was playing the wrong lineups, they didn't really have an offense.
When I say playing the wrong lineups, like, it's basic stuff. You can't play Nene and Marcin Gortat at the same time, because then John Wall can't do slash and kick because he's got two guys clogging the lane. This is basic stuff. You gotta play Otto Porter. He's young legs on the perimeter. You need this guy. Play him. You can't just have Bradley Beal doing ISOs, he's not that kind of player. These are all things you'd watch the Wizards and eventually I just gave up on them. For whatever reason, whether he was playing possum the whole time or whether the right person just had a conversation with him or whatever, all the stuff Wittman did in that series were things anyone who watched the Wizards all year was wondering why they didn't do it.
And on top of it, it's now Pierce's team and you can feel it. And he is, you know, one of the great clutch guys of this era. He's been in a million big games. He's one of the few guys who has gone toe-to-toe with LeBron and actually won. I don't think many people can say that. And he has just an incredible amount of confidence, and swagger and charisma, and can kinda suck people into it. I think they're going to overpower that Atlanta team. If Horford and Millsap aren't right, I just don't think Atlanta has enough.
Now all of the sudden you have Wiz-Cavs in the [Eastern Conference] finals if that happens. Now it's Pierce-LeBron meet again? That's the best Eastern storyline right?
Windhorst: Yeah, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves, but Wizards, I'm telling you, your boy House has some great tweets the other day with the #WittmanPlayingChess. You know, with the idea that he was playing possum, playing rope-a-dope and all of the sudden, broke out the REAL game plan.
"[Almost Bullets have] increased three-point attempts from 16.8 to 23.7 per game in the postseason." #WITTMANPLAYINGCHESS— House (@HousefromDC) April 26, 2015
"[Otto] Porter has emerged as a two-way standout, playing more minutes than he ever has as a professional" #wittmanplayingchess— House (@HousefromDC) April 26, 2015
#WITTMANPLAYINGCHESS https://t.co/Ra1CIXLs3O— House (@HousefromDC) April 27, 2015
Windhorst (continued): What's going on in Washington, all of the sudden, it's like you watch them play and you're like "Wait a minute, how many games did they win?" Because, materially, you go player by player on the roster, just take them out and look at each player, who has more talent the Hawks or the Wizards?
Simmons: It's no contest. And the other thing is, they figured out if you just play Nene and Gortat together for 48 minutes, and they just share 48 minutes together, they're going to give you a really good 48 minutes. They're going to get to 15 and 19 combined, which is great for a center. I think that's the best way to do it.
The other thing is, Playoff Nene is lot different from regular season, keep getting them checks Nene. So he'll always have two games where somebody either elbowed him or somebody said something to him or whatever and Nene wakes up and that's a big monkey wrench. Pierce is a guy who can wake up in any game. Bradley Beal can get hot. You know, it's a dangerous team.
Now, if you'll recall Bill Simmons also jumped on the Wizards' bandwagon last season. Let's revisit what he said then:
"On top of it for Washington -- the Gortat and Nene combo -- at least you know that they're not gonna totally be pushed around by those guys. I think Washington can play fast, run and push the pace. Beal is a bad match up for Chicago, and Washington has dudes that's been in games, you know? Ariza's won a title, Al Harrington has been in a bunch of big games, the Professor! What happens to Chicago when The Professor decides he wants to work some of his magic down in the low post on little short point guards?"
The Wizards did prove Simmons right in the first round series, but fell short of making the Eastern Conference finals as he predicted. So, keep that in mind when you're reading all these thoughts.
Now, if you'll excuse us, we're going to go take a walk.