— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) April 20, 2014
The time is now; the jitters are real; Wizards playoff season is finally upon us! To get you nervewracked and uber-excited fans prepared, WE’VE prepared a superpreview for the first round series between the Bulls and the Wizards, which is set for tip-off tonight at 7PM. Zain Zaidi, Shaun Ahmad, Mike Andrews, and Joe Glorioso give you all the insight on what the Wizards need to do to succeed, what the Wizards need to do to NOT let the Bulls succeed, the importance of Nene, and the final series prediction.
This is an extensive post so put your reading glasses on and enjoy! LET’S GO WIZARDS!
The keys to success for the Wizards
Establish Who’s Boss
Since the playoff seeding got finalized, we’ve heard plenty of analysis about how the Chicago Bulls got who they wanted in the first round. We’ve heard about how they will be able to use their playoff experience and savvy to roughhouse the young and inexperienced Wizards. We’ve heard about their vaunted defense. We’ve heard about how the regular season meant nothing and how the Wizards have no idea what they’re in for.
Let’s cool the jets on crowning Chicago the next best thing since the Bad Boy Pistons, okay?
Yes, their defense is the best in the league but the Wizards aren’t exactly the worst either. For the second straight year, they have finished top 10 in total defense. There’s something to be said for that. Washington will have to establish their style of play, which is more up-tempo, get the ball out in transition, attack the basket, and look for spot up three point opportunities. Chicago will do everything in its power to slow the game down to a snail’s pace and play a half-court, dribble it out until there’s 6 seconds on the shot clock type of game.
At every opportunity, Washington needs to avoid that and take advantage of their athleticism which is the catalyst to their success. They are a good rebounding team and have size. With that, they will need to benefit and start the process of out-running Chicago. Rebounds by the bigs means getting the ball quickly to their athletic wings and letting them get up the floor as fast as possible. That leads to penetration of the lane which leads to either, an easy shot, drawing a foul on Chicago’s bigs, or kicking it out for a good look.
In boxing, they say “styles make fights”. Whoever can implement and take advantage of their style of play will win the series. Chicago can play defense and will try to implement a rough, slow tempo series. Most think that will work. But Washington needs to take advantage of Chicago’s inability to score and run them out of the gym. For God’s sakes, their leading scorer was DJ Augustin!
Hit Them Early
Keeping with the boxing theme, the Wizards don’t have time let Chicago start off slow and get into a nice rhythm. Remember, Chicago is coming into this series as the veteran, favored team. They are looking at Washington like the new kids on the block and not viewing them as much of a threat. The worst thing Washington can do is start slow in letting both teams “feel each other out”. They will need to be the aggressor from the moment the ball is tipped. In essence, Washington has to come out from the opening bell brawling and throwing huge hooks.
Coming out extremely aggressively and getting Chicago into foul trouble, or even behind on the scoreboard, will do two things; 1) It will take the crowd out of the game and 2) It will immediately lead Chicago to start second-guessing.
Playoffs are as much mental as they are physical. Washington has to win the mental edge and coming out like gangbusters will be a huge step in winning the psychological battle.
Noah will yell and scream after big plays, the crowd will roar and taunt at critical junctures, that’s all going to happen – no question. But Washington needs to play with a moxie and confidence that Chicago isn’t expecting. They need to make this into a real fight, not just a, “Oh we are just hear to get a learning experience” kind of series.
We saw three road teams win game one on Saturday. You think the much more talented Pacers aren’t worried now? You think Toronto isn’t worried that despite their terrific crowd and environment, they botched game one? You think the Clippers aren’t worried about having to go to Golden State and win in that hostile environment?
This is Washington’s chance to hit Chicago in the mouth early and let them know that they didn’t come to learn, they didn’t come for the experience, they didn’t come to be little brothers. They came to win a series. It starts from the second they walk onto the court. They can’t back down at any point. If it means getting a technical or a flagrant, I can’t say I’m opposed to it.
Be in the Moment, but Don’t Let the Moment Be Bigger Than You
Statistics and regular season analysis is all valid and important. However, the intangibles will play a huge factor in this series. The majority of players on the Wizards don’t have playoff experience. Chicago does. That can present a problem.
There will be some trying moments, particularly in games one and two in Chicago. The crowd will get very loud and there will be calls that don’t go the Wizards’ way. Chicago, not known for their offense, might even go on a run or two while Washington struggles to find rhythm or any consistency to their offense.
That is okay – and Washington’s players need to understand that. It’s in these moments that they will need to learn to truly trust and lean on each other the most. That means not getting frustrated and barking at each other (Yes, you Ariza). It means not trying to take over and go one-on-one to be the hero, even if the intentions are good, (Yes, you Wall). It means not taking ill-advised shots and chucking up jumpers just to get your scoring total into double digits (Yes, you Beal).
If Plan A isn’t working, it is okay to go to Plan B. It’s rare for everyone to have a good game. The Wizards need to understand that it is okay to defer to the hot hand. Randy Wittman will need to keep a keen eye on the rotations and play the lineups that are working. The chess matches within the game will be of the utmost importance, but it starts and ends with trust.
Playoffs are where teams make the transformation from a group of guys signed to the same roster to collect a paycheck and play 82 games to a cohesive unit that can rely on each other in critical moments when it literally feels like the entire arena and city is against you.
We’ve seen teams like Oklahoma City, and ironically enough – Chicago, make the leap as a unit where trust in critical moments brings about success more than any individual talent. Leadership is developed and heightened during the playoffs, as we’ve seen with Kevin Durant and Joakim Noah. It is time for John Wall to take that next step in his budding career and not only perform well on the court, but keep his guys involved from a mental aspect. If a young player like Beal looks like a deer caught in headlights, it will be on Wall to bring him back and make sure he performs to his abilities.
The playoffs are much different from the regular season and are both exciting and terrifying at the same time. It is important for Washington to recognize the importance of each game and each possession, but not go overboard in letting it take them out of what they have done all year to get to this point.
Win or lose, the 2014 playoffs will serve as a valuable lesson for the Wizards and will completely change their focus and approach in the upcoming offseason.
— by Shaun Ahmad (@ShaunAhmad)
The Bulls WILL attack – and the Wizards must be ready to counter
Slow down John Wall
The identity and success of the Wizards offense is predicated on John Wall. He’s the head of a snake that slithers inside and creates havoc on the outskirts. Wall can do it all. He can drive inside and kick out to open teammates. He’s actually third in the NBA in points created off of assist per game. He assisted on 247 three-point baskets this year. He can hit jumpers coming off of screens. He can make shots in transition. However, the bulk of his impact is when he can drive inside to the lane and collapse the defense, or when he pushes the ball and creates numbers advantages with his speed and maneuverability. The Bulls did a great job in the last regular season of limiting Wall by cutting off all avenues that he attempted to stroll in. Kirk Hinrich needs to continue his stout on-the-ball defense. His heavy feet and great defensive instincts match up well with Wall’s quick crossover attack. When Wall is limited the Wizards offense suffers greatly. The rest of the team has talent, but most it is taking advantage of convenient three-point shooting and jumpers off screens. Wall creates these opportunities every basketball half by the handful. Stopping Wall means stopping the Wizards. The Bulls have always done a great job in blitzing screens and creating nearly inpenetrable force fields around the paint. The Bulls have done such a great job of shutting off the sidestreets that have become the fruit of John Wall’s labor that it really shouldn’t be a key to the game, but Wall is just that good.
Setting strong screens for Wall early and often. Wall needs to do a good job of pushing the tempo ad nauseum everytime he touches the ball but that doesn’t always yield guaranteed results. Against the Celtics in the regular season finale, Wall came out on fire from the midrange. This opened up plenty of opportunities later on in driving to the paint. Wall needs to be a threat from the midrange and from downtown early in this series so that Thibodeau has to make adjustments to play closer towards the perimeter. If the Bulls find comfort in sagging down into the paint and hedging enough to still disrupt the rhythm of shooters like Ariza and Beal, this will be a long series for the Wiz Kids. Don’t expect Wall to be given the paint as a first option. The Bulls will force him to take tough jumpers from outside.
The Wizards play very freely in a sense. They score in bunches in ways that don’t revolve around a lot of body contact. Granted, they’ve used that so often in so many games that they’ve won that it’s proved to be a productive formula, if you think that it’s by design. When they have to grind games out and face a lot of resistance, they look like a very different team. Translation: They don’t respond well to physical play. Last time these teams squared off at the Verizon Center, the Bulls completely manhandled the Wiz Kids. The Bulls grabbed rebound after rebound. The Bulls pushed Gortat and Booker so far out of the paint that the Wizards offense never really got going. It limited any second chance opportunities. The Wizards were so bad on offense that their defense suffered from it also. It all started with strong box-outs and keeping a body on every Wizards player at all times when the ball went in the air. Boozer and Noah should be able to impose their will against a Wizards frontcourt that is crafty but not exactly known for its brute strength. Boozer should easily outmuscle Trevor Booker and Joakim Noah has already cemented his reputation as someone who is willing to do all of the dirty work involved in being part of a half-court heavy team.
Play from the inside out. The Wizards seem to make it an M.O. to start with Gortat and Nene early. It’s actually come off as somewhat of a ritual considering that Nene and Gortat usually go iso on the Wizards first few possessions quite often. Eventually, they go away from it. Eventually meaning after the first three or four possessions. The Wizards need to work Nene in the post early and often so that
A. He can get in a rhythm
B. He can try to get Noah and Boozer in foul trouble
C. He can take advantage of being the second best passer the Wizards have
John Wall is the most important player for the Wizards this series. Nene is the second.
Let the Wizards live in Purgatory
If stroking it from downtown is Heaven and getting your hands dirty in the paint is Hell, then everything in between is Purgatory. Ariza is deadly from downtown. He’s not so lethal when he’s dribbling himself into a midrange jumper. Wall has shown the ability to score from in between the arc and the paint but it’s probably something you’d prefer he do until he can prove he can hit it consistently. The Wizards led the league in midrange attempts this year and were 21st in the NBA in converting them. The Wizards did win a good amount of games, but shooting midrange jumpers is exactly what the Bulls want their opposition to do. When a team like the Bulls packs the paint and force shooters off of the arc, most jump shots in between those areas end up off balanced and highly contested. If the Wizards burst into flames from the midrange and sweep the Bulls, Tom Thibodeau would be disappointed but would be satisfied with his gameplan. Poor midrange shooting doesn’t bode well for pick-and-roll efficiency as blitzers and switchers have more confidence in going under screens. Teams like the Bulls go under screens because teams like the Wizards aren’t that good at converting from the mid-range. Throw in the fact that the Bulls were 2nd in the league in forcing midrange shots and have historically defended the P&R well under Thibodeau and the Wizards offense will have to make most of the adjustments before and during this series.
Take the best early shot they can get. Last time out against the Bulls, the Wizards ended up being stuck in late shot clock situations where they constantly took some of the worst shots made available to them in that specific possession. If the Wizards stick with that “game-plan” then they’ll find themselves shooting lower than 40% for the game. As soon as the Wiz Kids get any sort of separation and can put up a decent attempt they should take advantage of it. Once the Bulls adjust to some early makes in the shot clock, the Wizards can show off some of the perimeter ball-movement that can create havoc for a defense.
— by Zain Zaidi (@ZainZ24)
The X-factor: Nene
As the Wizards enter round one in their first playoff appearance since 2008, the biggest matchup comes in the big men. With Chicago boasting a strong front court in Boozer and Noah, the Wizards big men have quite a job to do over the next four to seven games.
Thankfully for the Wizards, the two big men, Nene and Gortat, have an abundance of playoff experience and will be able to serve as level heads as the younger Wall and Beal play in their first playoff games in their career. More importantly, however, is the Brazilian powerhouse himself. In the season series, Washington fared well against Chicago. Their one loss came in a game in which Nene was out with the knee injury.
Nene is going to bring the intensity that is needed in the playoffs. He’s going to bring the strong post presence, the killer mindset and the passion to win. Whether he starts or not is still yet to be seen, but since his return from the injury, he’s shown his worth coming off the bench. The Wizards are a completely different team (for the better) with him. Things seem to just fall apart when he’s out. Booker, Seraphin and Gooden are all decent options for filling in, but nothing compares to having Nene.
The one good thing about him going out, however, was the signing of Drew Gooden. The Wizards needed another big man to help fill the gap of his absence, and now they head to the playoffs with one of the strongest front courts in the playoffs. If I had to guess, I’d say Nene starts tonight. Thankfully, the Wizards are facing a team in which the only real concerns are the big men, and for once, they’re prepared.
Playoff season is here, and the Wizards are primed for success thanks to these acquisitions. While the result is yet to be determined, it is going to be a fan’s dream to see Nene perform in this postseason.
— by Mike Andrews (@DJBigMikeDMV)
Cheers to ESPN’s Michael Wallace!
Saam: Bulls in 4.
Joe: Wizards in 6.
Abdullah: Wizards in 7.
Charles: Wizards in 5.
Zain: Wizards in 7.
Mike: Wizards in 7.
Jamal: Wizards in 6.