The NBA playoffs began on Saturday for the hometown Washington Wizards, taking on a very talented Toronto Raptors squad in the opening round. The 4-seed Raptors have a lot in common with the Wizards on paper, most notably a skilled pair of guards in all-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Lowry and John Wall have each been the nucleus of these two playoff teams since their respective arrivals, while both DeRozan and Bradley Beal have returned from injury-filled seasons to have consistent production in April (DeRozan so much that he was the Eastern Conference Player of the Month).
Washington played excellent defense in game 1 and stole home court advantage by securing a victory in the hostile Air Canada Centre. Game two is tonight, and if the Wizards can pull out another victory they will be looking strong as they return to DC and turn the odds in the favor. With Toronto set as favorites, Washington’s could flip home court advantage and have the odds makers changing their decisions. You can check out updated odds at sites such as William Hill Sports.
The Wizkids have struggled against Toronto the past couple seasons, but the three following factors could help guarantee that Washington carries their season into May and onto the second round.
1. Bradley Beal Plays Like 2014 Playoff Bradley Beal
The House of Guards made an impressive postseason debut in 2014, staying on the gas pedal throughout a series victory against the Bulls and a competitive 6 game series against the Indiana Pacers (Indy, oh how the mighty have fallen).
In the first round against Chicago, John Wall outran the opponent. Trevor Ariza, now a Houston Rocket, outshot the opponent. Bradley Beal did both, providing consistent scoring with a mix of driving, mid range jumpers and 3’s; all of this against a great defender in Jimmy Butler.
The Toronto Raptors are five times the team the 2014 Bulls were. Bradley Beal needs to carry on his recent aggressiveness and shooting percentage through the rest of the playoffs if he wants to make a championship run.
2. Increase in Bench Production
Simply put, the Wizards bench is…not awesome. Or even mediocre. It’s pretty bad. Luckily, playoff basketball means more time to rest between games, leading to more playing time for the starters. Regardless, a few of the reserves need to step up this series.
Otto Porter has shown potential and played a nice stretch of basketball while Paul Pierce sat out with a minor injury. However, Otto is inconsistent, most in part to a lack of playing time before this season. His athleticism could really spark some runs, along with recently acquired Ramon Sessions.
Kris Humphries had a great first half of the season before missing time due to injury and was a pleasant surprise during the Wizards hot streak in the early Winter. If Humphries and Kevin Seraphin can provide some valuable bench minutes, it would considerably ease both the workload of the starting frontcourt and the stress level for the fans. Now if only Rasual Butler could rediscover his jumpshot…
3. The Truth
When the Wizards signed Paul Pierce, it was solely for the playoffs. At the ripe age of 37, Pierce remains a top notch jump shooter; Game 1 on Saturday was a prime example. When Pierce is hitting his shots, he spaces the floor for Wall, and that is when the Wizards are at their best.
Strange enough, Pierce is about as athletic as he’s ever been (not saying much, but still impressive at 37). He’s playing under 230 pounds for the first time in his career. He even sleeps in a hyberbaric chamber, a process he learned from Kevin Garnett after their 2009 championship in Boston. Pierce only used the chamber before home games during the season, according to a recent profile piece by Jackie MacMullen, but he plans to use it before every game in the playoffs.
Besides being a valuable member of this high-powered Wizards starting line-up, Pierce has the secret on how to beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
But first, lets get out of Canada.