The Crystal Ball is a weekly Monday feature forecasting the future for the Wizards week ahead..
This week’s games:
February 9th, vs. Orlando Magic
February 11th, at Toronto Raptors
February 14th, John Wall competes in Skill’s Challenge
February 15th, All-Star Game featuring #Wallstar
Lets go Wall !!
Monday, February 9th
HOME vs. the Orlando Magic
What to watch: The new (and improved?) Orlando Magic. Orlando fired Jacque Vaughn, and named unknown assistant James Borrego as the interim head coach. Beware the Interim Head Coach Phenomenon: That early burst of energy and competence for about 5 games that always tends to occur for teams after they name an interim head coach. But remember, Orlando, a young team that was not expected to make the playoffs (even in the Eastern Conference!) just fired their head coach for not meeting expectations. They barely had any expectations!! In other words, the Orlando Magic are not good. The Wizards can NOT lose this game. The good news: This is just the kind of team the Wizards beat: A bad team!
· Wizards vs. teams below .500: 22-5
· Wizards vs. teams above .500: 10-15
The Magic are 16-38. So yea, the Wizards better win this game.
Key match-up: Wizards bigs vs. Nikola Vucevic. Do NOT sleep on Nikola Vucevic. Look at this:
· Nikola Vucevic: 19.7 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 54% FG, Age: 24
· 2015 All-Star Chris Bosh: 21.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 46% FG, Age: 30
· 2015 All-Star Pau Gasol: 18.1 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 49% FG, Age: 34
· 2015 All-Star Al Horford: 15.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 54% FG, Age: 28
And look at this:
Don’t get me wrong. His team is 16-38. He’s not an All-Star. But those ARE All-Star numbers. Dude can ball. And he’s only 24. More good news: He’s not a stretch big!
X-factor: Tobias Harris. Bad news: He’s a stretch big! And there’s this:
· In wins: 21.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 50% FG, 43% 3FG
· In losses: 15.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 45% FG, 34% 3FG
Dude can ball. And he’s only 22. If Tobias brings his A game, the Wizards will have their hats full.
Fun factor: Elfrid Payton! His hair is captivating. His shot is horrendous. His handle is fantastic. His vision is Magical*. His shot is horrendous. He’s crafty around the rim. He’s excellent in transition. He’s feisty on defense. And his shot is horrendous.
OH! And he only shoots 53% from the free-throw line! If you’re at the game, this is guy you want the Wizards to foul in the 4th quarter!!
Prediction: Look, I focused on Orlando because they’re 16-38, so nobody has really seen a lot of them (probably not even Magic Fans). The fact is, the Wizards are MUCH better than Orlando. They’ll have the best player on the court (Wall), the best shooter on the court (Beal, if healthy), and the best defense on the court. Oladipo is good, Vucevic is good, Tobias Harris is good, but none of them should be good enough to carry the Magic to a 17th victory. Wizards get this W, and go to 23-5 against teams under .500. Whatever. We’ll take the wins wherever we can get them.
*Yup, that was TRIPLE pun! Magical…he’s playing the Wizards…he plays for the Magic…Magic Johnson vision…
Wednesday, February 11th
AT the Toronto Raptors
What to Watch: My word how things have changed! Just over a week ago, we wanted the Wizards to win this game so as not to fall behind the Raptors in the head to head. Now? The Raptors have a two game lead on the Wizards, they are 2-0 in the head-to-head, and the Wizards just want to get wins wherever they can get them.
With that said, the last game was a classic. Wizards looked dead, stormed back in dramatic fashion, only to fall short in OT. I expect that loss to drive the Wizards in this game. Look for the Wizards to win all the intangibles: Energy, loose balls, offensive rebounds. The Wizards are going to be playing angry, and with the tremendous Toronto crowd against them, they are going to have an us-against-the-world mentality. This one’s going to be good.
Key matchup: John Wall vs. Kyle Lowry. A lot may have changed since the last time these two met, but the starting point guards have not. So this is still the key match-up. Wall’s explosion and playmaking vs. Lowry’s power and scoring bursts. Both All-Stars will take over portions of this game. That is a given. The All-Star who takes over most, or times his bursts of greatness best, will come out with his team on top.
While we’re here, let’s shamelessly pay homage to this Wall block on Lowry from a year ago.
X-factor: The All-Star Break. You know how when you’re waiting for Spring Break, all you can focus on is how much time you’re going to waste during Spring Break. Every test right before Spring Break, you fail. Every lecture right before Spring Break, you skip. Psychologically, Spring Break starts a few days before Spring Break actually starts. All-Star Break is Spring Break for NBA players. Some party. Some relax. Some vacation. Some go home. But they all enjoy it, and they all look forward to it. I expect the Wizards to come out seeking vengeance against Toronto. If I’m wrong, it’s because they were looking forward to Spring Break too soon.
Fun factor(s): The Toronto crowd. It’s not just Drake. This crowd is GREAT. They are smart, they are passionate, they are loud, and most importantly, they are ALL Toronto fans. You will know which possessions are huge, which players are about to make a play, or how bad (good for the Wizards!) a call was just by their decibel level.
I do however have one question for Toronto fans. I like, #WeTheNorth, but how do you not go with #WinterIsComing?!? Do people in Toronto hate Game of the Thrones? Are there Copyright ramifications? Can you even watch Game of Thrones in Canada? (Seriously, tweet me your answers @aIRFAN_2, I’m curious).
Prediction: Wizards come out ready for vengeance. Raptors come out ready for Spring Break. #WeTheNorth gives their team enough energy for another great game, but for this game, the #WizardsAreComing.
Saturday, February 14th
ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT –
TACO BELL SKILLS CHALLENGE
John Wall vs. Isaiah Thomas vs. Michael Carter-Williams vs. Jeff Teague vs. Brandon Knight vs. Trey Burke vs. Jimmy Butler vs. Kyle Lowry
What to Watch: #WallStar. Who else?? This event isn’t exactly the jewel of All-Star Saturday night, but John Wall is competing this year, so we’ve got a reason to watch. This year’s format is a head-to-head elimination bracket, which should be cute. Wall is competitive, so he’ll be trying to win. But he’s also a showman, so he’ll be trying to entertain. Keep your expectations low, and just enjoy the show!
Key matchup: John Wall vs. Isaiah Thomas. This is Wall’s first match-up in the event. Thomas is a relative unknown nationally (everyone knows the name, just not HIS name), so he’ll be trying hard to get himself some national exposure. He’ll be highly motivated as a result, so Wall will have to be ready right out of the gate. If Wall gets through the first round, look for the intensity to turn up, and the competitive juices to flow. If not…who cares, he doesn’t actually HAVE to do anything! It’s the All-Star Break!
X-factor: Random, unknown competitors. Isaiah Thomas? Trey Burke? Nobody really knows these guys. They’ll be trying to change that. Look for them to show a level of effort, intensity, and desire to win this thing that far exceeds the rest of the field. In this particular showcase event, just TRYING can go a long way.
Fun factor: All-Star Saturday Night! The whole thing is a fun factor.
Prediction: Trey Burke wins. He’s super-fast, and he’ll be trying super-hard. Unfortunately, much like nobody really pays attention to the Jazz, no one really pays attention to the skills competition. What we’re all waiting for is….
ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT –
FOOT LOCKER THREE-POINT CONTEST
Let’s go!! Our very own Bradley Beal takes on Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, James Harden….wait, what?….he’s not…but…well never mind then.
Sunday, February 15th
NBA ALL-STAR GAME 2015, EAST vs. WEST
What to Watch: Everything! Watch the intros. Watch the facial expressions. Watch who’s thrilled to be there (LeBron, Curry), watch who’s honored to be there (Lowry), and watch who’s bored to be there (Duncan). Watch the player interactions, the guys on the bench who feel disrespected by not playing enough, and the guys who rise above the rest to play in the 4th quarter.
This game has the best group of All-Star game style guards in years, and the All-Star game is all about the guards (and LeBron playing guard). The passes, the alley-oops, the speed, the crossovers. This year is going to be awesome!
Key matchup: 2s vs 3s. In 2015, the ridiculous 3 point shot is the new poster dunk. Watching Steph Curry knock down ridiculous, off-the-dribble step-back threes is more popular than watching LeBron drive for soul-crushing dunks. Proof: Stephen Curry led ALL players in fan voting for the All-Star game, and the kid can barely dunk in warm-ups. In this game, the West has the far superior three point shooters. Curry, Thompson, Harden. The East can show-out all they like, but the West can show-out to practically half court.
X-factor: #OptimusDime. Wall leads the NBA in assists, and on this night he’ll be dishing to the best players in the world. He’s the most pure point guard in this game. And the fastest basketball player in the world. If he gets the chance to do the majority of the ball handling in this game, look for him to make a legitimate run at All-Star game MVP, maybe even a triple double. Something along the lines of a 15 point-20 assist-10 rebound game in an East win. Maybe that’s overly optimistic, but that would be awesome! And he’s good enough to do it.
Fun factor: Unlimited range. If you think Steph Curry and Klay Thompson aren’t going to bring the three point contest to this game, you’re crazy. There will absolutely be a stretch where they just back up further and further until the crowd reaches a euphoric high. And when Curry and Harden start sinking 30 footers off of obscene crossovers, and turning around before the ball even goes in Agent Zero style, it’s going to be pandemonium.
Prediction: Best All-Star game since the (Bulls) Jordan years.