THE WHY NOT WIZARDS
By: Adam Chalifoux
Russell Westbrook snared his 10th rebound of the game for the 280th time of his career with eight minutes left against the Atlanta Hawks. The stadium Public Address announcer recognized what this board meant to basketball history; Westbrook’s 182nd career triple-double, passing Oscar Robertson for the most in an NBA career.
Westbrook’s season for the Wizards has been perfectly appropriate for a man whose slogan is “Why not?” Coming into the season, not everyone believed the Westbrook and Bradley Beal marriage would work. Early in the season, it looked like it may not.
The Wizards lost their first five games of the season on their way to a laughable 4-13 start. The Wizards had every reason to pack it in, to roll over and die, to tank, to call the pandemic shortened season a lost cause.
When Russell Westbrook is your point guard, however, ‘quit’ is not an acceptable verb in team vocabulary making him the perfect leader for the Wizards.
After the slow start, the fiery style of the Washington Wizards came roaring back to relevance in mid-February, crushing the heart of the Boston Celtics to begin a stretch in which they would win seven of their next eight games.
The Wizards play at break-neck speed, leading the NBA in pace at 104.6 which creates a unique challenge for teams that like to turn games into a shootout or track meet. The need for speed is shared by Beal, who is currently second in points per game with 31.4 behind Steph Curry’s 31.9. These two race around like cats at 2 AM, wreaking havoc and getting buckets, too quick to catch, and dangerous enough to beat any team in the NBA on any given night.
While their pace of play and 116.5 points per game, which ranks fourth in the NBA, are quintessential components of what makes the Wizards so dangerous, the biggest factor that should terrify any team in the league is much more simple. Their fearless identity is the biggest reason for their sweep of the NBA’s elite teams.
Despite their 32-26 record, the Wizards have frustrated and defeated the league’s best all season. The Wizards have completed sweeps of the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, and have taken two of their three games against the Brooklyn Nets. While the Wizards’ dismal start to the basketball year still shows its ugly face in the form of a sub-.500 record they have won 14 of their last 19 games including an 8-game win-streak. As the Playoffs approach, the Wizards’ prolific offense has reached a new level of efficiency, scorching the nets to average 133.3 points per game in the month of May.
Let’s tell the whole story though. While the Wizards style and two-headed dragon that is Beal and Westbrook powers one of the most potent offenses in the league, their defense is nothing short of horrendous. The Wizards allow a league-worst 118.8 points per game, are first in fouls and are in the bottom third of the league in every major traditional defensive category besides blocks.
This combination of great offense and horrible defense isn’t exactly the record for a championship team. It is however a great recipe for high-scoring and fun basketball games. As the Wizards approach the play-in tournament it seems most likely that they will face the Indiana Pacers. The Wizards swept Indiana 3-0 this season in games that were won 132-124, 154-141, and 133-132.
With a majority of the seeding in the NBA playoffs and play-in tournament yet to be finalized there is little point speculating how far Westbrook and the Wizards could go this spring. What is certain however is that no matter who they are matched up with, they will be taking that “Why not?” mantra with them into battle.