The fantasies are racing ahead.
The Washington Wizards are up, 2-0, during a best-of-seven series against the Chicago Bulls, and already fans are thinking about the Eastern Conference Finals. Surely, Washington can't blow the opening round after taking two in Chicago, especially because it will host Game 3 and Game 4 -- and Game 6, if necessary -- at Verizon Center. Then, Washington would need to beat either 38-win Atlanta or underperforming Indiana during the second round.
Suddenly, it's LeBron James time and a series away from the NBA Finals.
It's a nice daydream, and it might happen, but longtime Washington, D.C., sports fans know that 2-0 series leads vanish faster than tax refunds. Chicago could have easily won Game 2 April 22 after turning a 17-point first-quarter deficit into a 10-point fourth-quarter lead before falling, 101-99, during overtime.
Winning one game in Chicago was huge for Washington, but taking two was amazing. The frontcourt won the first game; the backcourt took the second. The Bulls are countered either way.
But then, the Wizards didn't look crisp during either victory. The Bulls dragged them down into Chicago's down-and-dirty style. It's not pretty, no running full speed. It's about banging under the boards, grabbing loose balls and hitting free throws.
So there's no way Washington has this series clinched. It's a series of punching/counterpunching and will go six or seven games. Both teams have mediocre streaks in them to let the other win, but each plays shutdown defense, too.
It's like the old 1980s "Bad Boys" of Detroit playing an intrasquad game.
"Last two years, we've been in the top 10 in a lot of defensive categories," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said during his April 22 postgame press conference. "I'm an old-school coach. I come from [coach] Bobby Knight. You had to play defense, and I still think defense wins at this time of year. Last year, our guys really bought into that.
Chicago winning in D.C. April 25 and 27 wouldn't be a shocker. Suddenly, it would be a best-of-three series with Chicago gaining momentum.
But the Bulls don't have the consistency and offensive firepower to win four games against the Wizards. That's why Washington can absorb a loss April 25 and come back April 27 to lead, 3-1. And then, it's really unlikely Chicago would win the series. Only three teams have ever overcome a 2-0 deficit with two home losses.
Yet, Wittman said it's not as simple as fans think to close out the Bulls.
"You got to get four [wins]," Wittman said. "Nothing's guaranteed from here on out. We have to continue to understand why we won these games. Game 3, we have to play harder and more intensity."
Now, Washington will get its first home playoff game since the 2007-08 season. Wizards tickets that were 30 cents on StubHub two years ago are now $108 for April 25. There's a renewed energy in a city that's more basketball conscious than most think.
"I hope it's jumping," Wittman said.