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Carpe Diem: The formula to the Wizards’ early success

“That was part of my game plan. We know Zab Judah is a front-runner. We are just going to take our time, keep our composure and stick to the game plan. If we didn’t have any problems, the fight was going to go the distance.”

That was Floyd Mayweather after beating Zab Judah in a unanimous decision in April of 2006. I remember the fight and that quote vividly. It taught me a lot about the sport and how to evaluate competitive matchups. Take Mike Tyson for example. You knew that if you got in the ring with Tyson, you were likely going to get knocked out in the first four rounds. He was like a wild animal in the ring early in fights. However, he didn’t have the stamina and maybe even smarts to last an entire 12 rounds. If Iron Mike didn’t beat you in the first 12 minutes of the fight, you had a great chance to win.

The Mike Tyson of the NBA was probably the 2010-2011 Miami Heat. They threw hay-makers in the early quarters and could go up 20 on you in the blink of an eye. Yet they couldn’t close games. They couldn’t win if the game was on the line in the final few minutes. They had to knock you out early. Now don’t get me wrong, the talent that Zab Judah had isn’t comparable to a team like the Bulls that’s been depleted and never really had a vast level of talent in the first place. The Wizards aren’t exactly Floyd Mayweather either.

The parallel I’m drawing is that the Bulls have seemed like a worthy contender for the Wizards in the first three quarters. Whether they’ve been down or up, they seemed like they could turn it on or continue to push the pedal to the metal to gain a lead or secure a victory. In both contests, it seemed like the Bulls would pull away from the Wiz Kids after the 3rd quarter. D.J. Augustin was playing like he found out he was actually adopted and his biological parents were in the stands holding up a sign that said “Show us why we were wrong.” The imprint of Taj Gibson’s crotch might as well have been bronzed on Trevor Bookers back if we are considering how many offensive rebounds he pulled down while using Booker as a springboard. Every time Carlos Boozer shot his rainbow jumper you could see the asbestos coming down from the rafters, signifying the gentle graze the leather put on the roof. Not enough to stop it from going in. And then Mike Dunleavy. Don’t get me started. It seemed like I could have put my mortgage on him making every shot from downtown.

Then, in both of the games – more so Game 2 – they completely fell apart on offense in the 4th quarter. Kirk Hinrich went from someone who looked like a classy guy who would pull over next to you on I-95 to help you change your tire, to a guy who I won’t be shocked to see in a mugshot in a few months. He tried to pick a fight with the poor, innocent, and adorable Bradley Beal. He repeatedly snatched his goggles off from his face in disgust. He missed free throws that could have tied the game.

D.J. Augustin reverted back to playing like…D.J. Augustin. Mike Dunleavy couldn’t hit water if he was sitting in a boat. Boozer disappeared like his hairline tends to do. There won’t be a need to preview much of the next few games as much as it’s going to come down to playing to your level of talent or defying the odds. The Bulls will have to shoot the lights out to compete until the end of the games.

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car·pe di·em

(kär′pĕ dē′ĕm′, -əm, dī′-) interj.
Used as an admonition to seize the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future.

The Bulls are frontrunners. They squeeze every ounce of talent out of themselves just to compete in games. That’s a lot of squeezing. Eventually there’s no juice. Just pulp. The Bulls are orange juice with extra pulp. Who likes extra pulp? The Wizards on the other hand are turning out to be something that D.C. sports teams never shake out to be. They are living in the moment. When the Wizards were down double-digits after being up 17 I thought it was over. Basketball is a game of runs. Sometimes when you get up early you end up losing the game. The pendulum swings and momentum can be lost in a matter of minutes. Being up 17 when you aren’t playing stout defense? Doesn’t mean much. Being down ten against the best defensive team in the league? Not good. The Wizards choked it away, stayed medium, fell into an abyss, and then crawled back to make it a game. It’s difficult to stay motivated in those circumstances. You tend to convince yourself that you’ve lost before it actually happens.

Give credit to the adjustments of Coach Randy Wittman. Yup. You read it right. Putting Trevor Ariza on D.J. Augustin proved fruitful. Augustin failed to score after he drew Ariza. Trevor’s ability to fight through screens and use his length to contest Augustin’s shots proved beneficial to the Wizards defense, to the detriment of the Bulls offense. Wittman never faltered after the Bulls went on a strong 3rd quarter run, instead letting the Bulls attempt to hurt them from outside while letting Ariza handle the biggest threat to dribble drive and kick while also creating shots for himself. Expect good ol’ Randy to continue with this game plan.

The Bulls don’t have the talent to make many more adjustments on offense. The Bulls have to continue to make shots at the vast pace they seemingly started at in both games. It’s going to be hard considering they are frontrunners. It’s going to be more difficult considering that the Wizards seem destined to make noise in these playoffs. Bradley Beal is showing no fear in taking and making big shots late in games. John Wall is turning on the defensive pressure higher as every minute goes by. Trevor Ariza is cementing his legacy as a stone cold assassin from downtown.

The Wizards are sticking to the game plan. They don’t need to throw hay-makers. They just need to play hard for 45 minutes and then shine their brightest when the game is on the line. That’s what they’ve been doing and need to continue to do. Carpe Diem.

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