Wizards Trying to Find Consistency
One of the most interesting teams in the NBA over the past few seasons has been the Washington Wizards. They seem to be a team that could be a surprise in a number of different ways. Given how much talent they have, it seemed foolish to discount them as a contender in the Eastern Conference heading into this season.
Last season during the playoffs, the Wizards swept the Toronto Raptors in four games during the first round. The sweep came as a bit of a surprise considering how the Raptors won all three of the team’s regular season matchups.
The Wizards then won the first game of their next series against the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks. Things were looking bright for the Wizards, as many thought they could become a Cinderella story during the playoffs. Then, All-Star point guard John Wall suffered five non-displaced fractures in his left hand that ultimately cost him the next three games. By that time, all of the momentum the team had built seemed to be gone, along with the hopes of upsetting the Hawks.
Washington has advanced to the second round of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons after failing to win over 30 games in the team’s previous five seasons. They came into the 2015-16 season with expectations to be a serious competitor in the East. This season, the conference has been wide open. It’s been the Cleveland Cavaliers, and everyone else. Virtually every team has been in contention to become the Cavaliers’ biggest threat — except Washington.
As the standings currently sit today, the Wizards are 12th in the East at 16-19. Fortunately for the Wizards, the East has been as competitive as we’ve seen it in recent years and they’re just 2.5 games out of eighth place. To give an idea of how competitive it’s been, four teams that didn’t make the postseason last year would be playoff teams if the season ended today. But the Wizards just haven’t been able to gain any sort of consistency this season for one reason or another.
Injuries are a big part of why the team has been inconsistent. According to ManGamesLost.com (a website that calculates how injured teams are), the Wizards have been the league’s most injured team with 148 games missed due to injury as of last Saturday. Bradley Beal’s injury has made up for a good chunk of those games. He’s missed the past 15 games with a stress reaction in his lower right leg, but is expected back in the next week or two. When healthy, Beal and Wall have become one of best backcourt combinations in the league.
“We’ve had a lot of guys down and we’ve been struggling with our rotations,” center Marcin Gortat said. “We didn’t have too many people available. Slowly we are getting back to being a full team. Hopefully in the next few days we get to come back to being a team with 15 players available.”
With so many players having missed time this season, the Wizards have had to rely more heavily on Wall. He’s the face of the franchise and the team will only go as far as he can take them. For the most part, when Wall plays well, the team wins. When he has off nights, the team struggles.
Heading into this season, Wall set high expectations for himself that included being in the MVP race, being on the All-NBA First Team and on the All-Defensive First Team. Many around the league don’t see Wall as a top-10 player, and Wall wanted to use that as motivation this season because he feels as though he deserves to be mentioned in that conversation.
With Stephen Curry picking up where left off last season and with several other players putting up huge numbers, it’s unlikely Wall’s wish of being in the MVP race happens this season. But, that’s not to say that he’s having an off year. So far, he’s averaging a career-high 19.7 points, 9.6 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game. He’s 26th in the league in scoring, second in assists and fifth in steals.
“In my opinion, he’s the best point guard in the NBA,” teammate Gary Neal said. “I got 100 percent trust in him [and] I’m sure my feelings resonate all over this locker room. I’m completely confident in him.”
While it’s clear that Wall is a leader on this team, the Wizards will need to gain some consistency to have a chance in the improved East. Talk to any player in the locker room and it won’t take long for them to mention that they need to be consistent. It was only two weeks ago that the team had strung together four-straight wins to put them back at .500.
Since that time, the team has gone 2-5 with both wins coming over the Orlando Magic. The addition of Beal in the coming weeks should help significantly as they try to get back on track. However, even with Beal set to return soon, it’ll likely take him several games to knock off the rust and return to form.
“We’re trying to get to the point where our offense doesn’t dictate our defense,” Neal said. “I think a lot of times in our losses, us not being able to play offense at a fast pace and make shots has kind of hurt us on the defensive end. We’re trying to grow and we’re trying to get past that, that we can sustain the defensive effort for 48 minutes.
“I think when we play small — the way we have been playing all year — and when we shoot the three-ball well, if you look at the numbers, we probably win 90 percent of those games.”
The team is hoping the win over the Magic on Saturday night can steer them in the right direction. They swept the four-game season series over the Magic and have now won 12 straight against Orlando. Players know all it takes is one game to help build momentum and begin to trend upward.
“You gotta take it one game at a time and one practice at a time,” Neal said. “You can’t get too high or too low in this league. You could be on a three-game winning streak and it could turn ugly real fast. You have to take it one game at a time and one practice at a time. That’s the maturity that we have to show in this locker room and on this team. The next objective is the Bulls on Monday.”
John Calipari Again Denying Coaching Rumors
It seems as though each time a head coaching position opens up, Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari’s name surfaces. Over the past few years, Calipari has been linked to the Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Pelicans and, most recently, the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets announced yesterday that they re-assigned general manager Billy King and fired head coach Lionel Hollins. Since making those changes, Calipari has already been linked to the head coaching vacancy.
Yahoo Sports reported on Sunday night that the Nets want Calipari for the opening. But, in order to pry Calipari away from Kentucky, the price tag will cost the Nets (or any other team) $120 million over 10 years, an increase from his current $8 million to $9 million salary at Kentucky.
On Monday, Calipari again denied those rumors that he would consider leaving Kentucky.
“You may have heard me say this before: I absolutely have the best coaching job in sports and I plan on being at Kentucky for a long time,” Calipari tweeted. “I am not negotiating with ANYBODY. My total focus is on this team and winning the next game.”
The report from Yahoo indicated that Calipari will continue denying the reports bringing him back to the NBA over the course of the rest of the college season, but will continue talks and negotiating until his demands are met.
As for Calipari’s Wildcats, the team is 12-3 and ranked 14th in the latest Associated Press rankings after losing to LSU and beating Alabama last week.
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