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Top Stories of the Week: Wizards get closer to first division title, but they also need rest

Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

March Madness is still going down as we get closer to finding out which teams make the Final Four. And for the Wizards, we’re getting closer to seeing whether they’ll break the 50-win glass ceiling and/or their first division title since 1979 when this song was a cool tune to sing to, instead of a corny sports arena punch line.

Anyway, let’s get to this week’s top stories:

The Wizards split their games from last week

Last Friday, John Wall dished 20 assists to lead the Wizards to a 112-107 win over the Bulls at home. The next day, the Wizards went cold and lost 98-93 to the Hornets.

On Monday, the Wizards played the Celtics on the road in a game that could be a tiebreaker when it comes to playoff seeding. Once again, they lost, 110-102 and it seems that D.C. sports fans are on the losing end of every “rivalry” with another up and coming team...

Anyway, they played at home on Wednesday against the Hawks. It seemed like the Wizards were going to lose again thanks to a slow start. But the offense turned on the jets in the second half to help them escape with a 104-100 victory.

The Wizards are now 43-28 this season and have just 11 games left. They’re still third in the East, but it’s going to be hard for them to get past Boston now. They’re also just half a game ahead of the Raptors, so you can’t rule out Washington somehow finishing with the fourth seed.

They play the Nets later tonight and the Cavaliers tomorrow on the road which kicks off another five game marathon road trip. That’s right. The Wizards play eight of their last 11 games on the road.

The Wizards are close to their first division title since 1979

With the Wizards’ win over the Hawks on Wednesday, they took a commanding six game lead in the Southeast Division. Kelly Cohen wrote earlier this week that this division title still matters a lot, even if there are no benefits (like guaranteed higher playoff seeding) with it anymore.

Though the division title is nice, the Wizards have started slacking off defensively in recent games. In addition, some key starters like Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat haven’t played in form. And to make matters “worse,” let me say it again: the Wizards play eight of their last 11 games on the road. They still have yet to face the Cavaliers AND the Warriors on the road as well.

In short, the environment is ripe for the Wizards to somehow lose enough and for the Hawks to win enough games so the division — AND HIGHER SEEDING — goes to Atlanta instead. Therefore, I don’t think the Wizards will have the luxury of resting players at will like Golden State, San Antonio or Cleveland will do.

The Wizards peaked, but that was expected

From December through February, the Wizards were one of the hottest teams in the NBA. It took freak baskets by Pistons forward Marcus Morris and LeBron James to prevent what could have been a 17 game winning streak.

But it’s hard to expect any team — even last year’s Warriors — to win 30 times in a row. And the good news is this: the Wizards will make the playoffs, and they’ll be as tough of a first round (and second round) matchup as any in the Eastern Conference.

Brandon Jennings talks about his time with the Knicks

The Wizards have been looking for a decent point guard to serve as John Wall’s backup. They found former Knicks guard Brandon Jennings right after the trade deadline. Jennings hasn’t hit his scoring form just yet in D.C., but he is averaging 5.1 assists in just 14.3 minutes per game in the 12 games he’s appeared in.

He recently talked to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News where he discussed the circumstances around his arrival and departure from the Big Apple. In short, the Knicks were his “dream team” to play for, but they wanted him to play at a slower pace than he’d like. As the Knicks’ season declined over the winter, Washington provided a better opportunity, and they were quite gracious handling his departure:

"I think what just happened was they were just going in a different direction. I wanted to play fast. I didn't really understand the triangle," Jennings said. "I think that was my biggest thing. I really didn't understand it. I'm not saying it doesn't work. I just felt like the way the game is being played today, I just felt like you got to score. You got to score. You got to get up shots. When I came to New York, I wanted to put on a show every night. I wanted to put up shots with nice passes and things like that. So I guess it just wasn't the right timing."

The Knicks are at a crossroads under their current front office. Though they have a young rising star in Kristaps Porzingis, New York seems to lack patience developing through the draft, which explains why they try to go for many bigger name free agents each summer. They often fail to get “the big fish” and settle for different players.

This past season, New York acquired Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose from the Bulls as complementary pieces to Porzingis and their marquee star, Carmelo Anthony. Both are a shell of what they used to be. And ultimately, the team can’t get it together. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Knicks turn over much of their front office and players in the next couple years — and repeat the same cycle once again.

At any rate, I’m happy to see that Jennings is in Washington. But I’d like to see him shoot better than 26 percent from the field. It has to change soon, right?

Ted Leonsis sounds off on the NBA resting players

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently released a memo to NBA owners that the issue of teams “resting players” will be on the agenda in the next NBA Board of Governors meeting in April.

On CNBC last Tuesday, Ted Leonsis appeared on “Fast Money Halftime Report” where he said that he called Silver to tell him that his stars will play on national TV games:

"It's an honor to play on national TV and teams should respect that. Networks paid a lot of money for the programming and they want to drive ratings," [Leonsis] said. "They deserve to have the best product and best players out there," he added.

Leonsis has served as the NBA Board of Governors’ chairman of its media committee, so it’s not surprising that he would say that from that perspective. However, Leonsis also has an interest as the Wizards’ owner to go to bat for John Wall and Bradley Beal. Overall, I was happy that he said this. Fans deserve to see the best product possible and the Wizards should have been on national TV more in January and February for sure.

Meanwhile the Wizards aren’t resting

The Wizards’ stars all played on Wednesday against the Hawks. They did win, but perhaps the full effects of logging a ton of minutes wore on them. Albert Burneko of Deadspin noticed that. He wrote that the Wizards need more rest than any other team, but are too dumb to do it:

In any event, D.C.’s best players needed more rest back in December and January, when that rest could still do some good in portions measured in minutes; they definitely need it now, when those chunks will have to be game-sized to make any difference at all. Which makes smarmy bullshit like the following, from an interview Wall himself gave to CNS Mid-Atlantic a few days ago, particularly dumb:

“I’m not the type of guy who wants to sit down and rest. I think you owe it to the fans,” Wall said. “They paid money to come see us play. That’s how a professional goes out there and competes. If nothing is hurt, you can play go play.”

Of course, if you’re looking for a reason other than standard tough-guy self-congratulation why a pro athlete might take to the media to say actually no I don’t need rest, playing through fatigue is good and smart, maybe it’s because he knew his boss, hare-brained tech-dingus team owner Ted Leonsis, is the type of unhelpful boob who will go on CNBC to mewl passive-aggressively about his team’s absence from national broadcasts and offer to trade his players’ health for more attention:

Taking Burneko’s profanity and name calling aside, I agree with him that the Wizards could use more rest. I don’t think Scott Brooks is “too dumb” to rest them, and I’m not sure if he has the luxury given how tight the East is right now. Burneko noted that the Wizards could somehow fall to fifth given their remaining schedule — and still manages to take a shot at Ernie Grunfeld. It’s like the Wizards can’t win either way.

Part of the Wizards’ rest issues stem from the fact that they started the season poorly. But again, they can still use all the rest that they can get.

Two Podcasts

For those of you audiophiles, we released two pods last week:

More pieces

There’s a lot more on the web, so here’s a quick roundup from here and elsewhere:

So these are just some of the many links that we saw in the last week. If you have another link you’d like to share, feel free to add it in the comments or as a FanPost. Have a great weekend everyone!