Date: Tuesday February 28th, 2017
Location: Verizon Center — Washington D.C.
Time: 4:00 pm PST (it’s early!)
TV: CSN Bay Area; NBA TV
Radio: 95.7 The Game
Blog buddy: Bullets Forever
After beginning their grueling road trip in Philadelphia on Monday, the Golden State Warriors continue their journey across the East Coast in Washington D.C. Led by the electric John Wall and improving stars Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, the Washington Wizards have overcome a weak start to the season to place third in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break. I ask Bullet Forever’s Albert Lee about Washington’s outlook for the playoffs, including how they match up with the villainous Cleveland Cavaliers, and what to look for in tonight’s matchup.
Hugo: Despite a poor beginning to the season, the Wizards have surged ahead to third in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break. How surprised are you at their recent success, and what have been the key factors in their ascension?
Albert: I wasn’t surprised to see that the Wizards are a top eight team in the east at this point. But I am surprised that they were third in the east at the All-Star Break, thanks to a 19-game win streak at home and their excellent play since December.
There are four main factors behind their ascension: First, three of Washington’s top three draft picks — Wall, Beal and Porter — have improved since last season and remained healthy all year. Second, the starting post duo of Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris have remained steady. Third, the bench has significantly improved from abysmally bad to just below average as Jason Smith has “held the fort” on both ends of the floor and Kelly Oubre Jr. has emerged as the Wizards’ sixth man over the last couple months. Finally, the Wizards never tuned out Coach Scott Brooks and fought through their early games and November when they were still 6-12.
Hugo: The Wizards added Bojan Bogdanovic to their bench at the trade deadline and are incorporating center Ian Mahinmi into the rotation after injury. Is this enough to help a weak Wizards bench unit?
Albert: The additions of Bogdanovic and Mahinmi will help the Wizards bench, but I’m not sure if that’s going to be enough to beat a team like the Cavaliers in the playoffs.
I’ll start with the good news about the bench. We saw both Bogdanovic and Mahinmi play significant minutes and make positive contributions in the Wizards’ loss to the Utah Jazz last Sunday.
But the Wizards still don’t have a solid backup facilitator to John Wall. Tomas Satoransky has shown potential at times, but he hasn’t fully adjusted to the NBA game, and he is a bit too reluctant to score. Then there’s Trey Burke, who has a different skill set that isn’t predicated on being “pass first.”
Hugo: Beal and Porter have taken huge leaps this season. How have they improved within Brooks’ system, and where can they take their next steps?
Albert: Beal built upon what he did last season by improving his shooting efficiency to a career high 47.8 percent from the floor this season. During former head coach Randy Wittman’s tenure in Washington, Beal often shot many “long two point shots,” in part because Wittman believed in an offensive philosophy where players who are open should take the shot -- even if it is a “long two.” Under Brooks, Beal is attempting a career high 7.2 threes a game this season, which certainly helped add a couple more points to his average.
Porter has gradually improved each season by improving his shooting efficiency in each of his four NBA seasons. The most important area where he has improved is from three, where Porter was the NBA leader in three point shooting efficiency at the All-Star break.
One of the keys to the Wizards’ playoff seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15 was the presence of a sharp shooting small forwards, Trevor Ariza and Paul Pierce. Now, Porter has filled in their shoes and is doing about as good of a job as you would hope. I just wish that the Wizards would utilize him a little more than they do already.
Hugo: How does Washington match up against the top Eastern Conference teams like Toronto, Boston and Cleveland?
Albert: The Wizards’ starting lineup matches up favorably against teams like the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics. In fact, they match up well against the Cavaliers. That said, the Wizards don’t have the bench depth Cleveland has, but they shouldn’t be counted out in a seven game series against Toronto or Boston.
Hugo: Are there any specific player-to-player match-ups to keep an eye on in the game against the Warriors tonight?
Albert: The player-specific matchup to see is between Beal and Klay Thompson. There are certainly a lot of comparisons between Wall and Stephen Curry in today’s point guard-dominated league, but Beal has rounded out his game where he’s averaging a career high in assists and creating more shots off the dribble than in the past.
It will also be interesting to see how Oubre Jr.’s defense compares to Andre Iguodala’s. Oubre Jr. isn’t as good as Iguodala, of course, but perimeter defense is one of Oubre Jr.’s strong suits, and he has also become a more reliable option off the bench.