Wizards Looking Like The Real DealPosted on May 06, 2014 by Rick Snider
Another haymaker was delivered -- the Washington Wizards are starting to look like real contenders.
It's one thing to win a first-round series against the Chicago Bulls, a lackluster defensive team. That was a big deal, given that Washington hasn't really done anything during the playoffs since the 1970s.
But the Wizards proved themselves as more than a one-series wonder by thrashing the Indiana Pacers, 102-96, May 5. Suddenly, they're real.
Maybe the Pacers have struggled the past two months, and their center Roy Hibbert has literally become a 7-foot-1 invisible man, but Indiana is still the No. 1 Eastern Conference seed. After Indiana won twice to avoid a startling first-round upset, Washington should have been concerned that the Pacers had rediscovered their chemistry and would play like a No. 1 seed during the second round.
It could have happened -- but it didn't May 5. If Hibbert's career meltdown doesn't stop soon, Washington can sweep past Indiana and reach the conference finals.
Imagine, a team that was just awful for many years up to 2013 is now a legit title contender without having a big-time superstar such as LeBron James or Kevin Durant. It doesn't happen, this type of team play. That's the college game.
But it's happening in Washington, D.C. After having four different leading scorers during five games versus Chicago, Washington had another breakout performer, this time center Marcin Gortat. While Gortat was only the fourth top scorer for Washington against the Pacers, he owned the inside with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Hibbert? He collected zero points, zero rebounds and five fouls during 17 minutes, 43 seconds played.
There's the series right there -- the inside that Gortat owns. Washington's rise isn't as much from its emerging guards, despite Bradley Beal becoming the first NBA player to score at least 25 points during three playoff games before turning 21 years old when netting 25 against the Pacers. The Wizards' real improvement this season came from obtaining Gortat to strengthen the middle.
Forward Nene has been steady during the postseason, dropping 15 points and six rebounds against Indiana, but Gortat has become the tough guy inside -- the "Polish Hammer," as he's dubbed. Nene can disappear at times, and was even suspended one game for fighting against the Bulls, but Gortat is the rock of Washington's improvement.
Indeed, franchise player John Wall has largely been quietly able to run the offense because others are scoring. And, they're scoring because Wall doesn't need to carry the offense, dishing nine assists during the opener against Indiana. The first overall pick of the 2011 draft, Wall had a game-high 24 points during the closeout win against the Bulls, and he is a now a true point guard who makes the wheel go round while Beal is the shooting star.
That's not even mentioning Trevor Ariza hitting all six 3-pointers against Indiana for 22 overall or Drew Gooden, one of three Wizards players with NBA Finals experience, adding 12 off the bench.
The Wizards have come together. The only question is how far they can go. Other teams are more talented, but few mesh as well as Washington.
The Nationals are No. 7 in Stan "The Fan" Charles' MLB power rankings and could soon get a boost from the returns of Wilson Ramos and Doug Fister.