Wizards ready for toughest week of regular season yet
The Wizards are 9-3 in the 12 games they’ve played since John Wall went down with a knee injury in late January. The team’s played exceptionally well with Tomas Satoransky as its starting floor general in Wall’s stead and with the likes of Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. stepping up in their respective roles.
Now comes the hard part.
Starting with the hardest back-to-back of the season on Tuesday (at Milwaukee) and Wednesday (at home against Golden State), Washington faces a team currently in playoff position in each game until March 25 when it hosts New York. It’s a challenge that isn’t completely foreign save for the daunting length of the stretch. In their past 12 games, the Wizards have beaten the Thunder, Raptors and Cavaliers, all playoff teams themselves. Still, a month of playoff competition will be a test for a team that doesn’t have one of its All-Stars.
The formula for their recent success has been simple: playing consistently hard on defense and moving the ball offensively. Combined, those things have helped the Wizards control the pace of the game and find their best option on the floor in the right spots. Their overall pace is understandably lower without Wall, but they’re still among the best in the NBA in a few key areas.
Defensively, Washington is creating the second-most steals and opponent turnovers (9 and 15.6 per game, respectively) since January 26. Offensively, the Wizards’ 49.2 percent mark from the field is good for second in the league, while their 30.3 assists per game (and 71.2 assisted field goal percentage) are the best marks in the NBA. All of the above has added up to the league's sixth-best net rating (5.7) since January 26, no doubt accurately represented by the nine wins its produced.
The Wizards' recent hot streak is here just in time, because on the docket this week are games against Milwaukee, Golden State, Toronto and Indiana. A quick look at what to watch for in each matchup…
Tuesday at Bucks, 8 p.m. (TNT/1500 AM)
The road team has won each of the three games between these two, and the Wizards are hoping to continue that trend Tuesday night in Milwaukee. The Bucks are 3-2 in their last five games, but boast an attack that’s proved to be difficult to matchup against, particularly since adding two-way point guard Eric Bledsoe (17.4 points per game) to the lineup.
Of course, All-Star starter Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.6 points per game) makes them a menacing team in transition, meaning the Wizards will have to control the tempo and limit turnovers to win. Bledsoe will make for a great challenge for Tomas Satoransky, who’s been uber-efficient lately, and the return of Jabari Parker along with Khris Middleton’s career year to date (20.1 points per game) make them a potent team to handle.
If you still need another angle to tune in for, the Bucks are also just 1.5 games behind the Wizards - currently in sixth in the East - and would gain a tiebreaker with a win. Seeds 3-7 in the conference are currently separated by just 2.5 games.
Wednesday vs. Warriors, 8 p.m. (ESPN/1500 AM)
There’s not much to say about the Warriors that hasn’t been said. They start four All-Stars and lead the league yet again with a whopping 116.1 points per game. And while the Wizards have shared the ball better in the league than anyone in the past month, Golden State holds that mark on the season as a whole.
The bottom line is that while the Warriors are nearly unbeatable when the ball zips around and they’re hitting shots, they’ve proven to be unusually vulnerable defensively this season. In their past four losses, they’ve allowed a staggering 123 points on average. While the core of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green is as good as it gets in the NBA offensively, it lacks rim protection on the other end. That, along with limiting fast break opportunities and controlling the tempo, will be the focus for the Wizards, who have been great at getting favorable shots lately. It’s also worth mentioning that Washington beat the Warriors last season in D.C.
Friday vs. Raptors, 8 p.m. (ESPN/1500 AM)
Until their latest loss at home to Milwaukee, the Raptors had won nine of ten with the lone loss in the stretch coming in D.C. The Wizards matchup well against Toronto and have even beat the Raptors twice without John Wall already this season. Still, the squad from the North are a potent offense that comes with a top-10 defense.
All-Star mainstay DeMar DeRozan leads the charge with 23.9 points per game, but Kyle Lowry (16.6 points) and others make up one of the deepest supporting casts in the league. 11 Raptors average 18 minutes per game or more to date, and every member of the second unit has been remarkably efficient in their respective roles. All of that has led to the third-best net rating in the NBA this season and a 41-17 record, the best in the East entering play Monday.
Sunday vs. Pacers, 6 p.m. (NBATV, NBCSW/1500 AM)
The week’s finale comes against the Pacers, who are also a part of the jumbled-up Eastern Conference at 34-25 entering Monday (0.5 games back of the Wizards). When Washington last saw the Pacers in Indy, it was without All-Star guard Victor Oladipo, who really makes the team tick. That loss was Indiana’s last, as they’ve gone on a four-game winning streak since. Oladipo’s 24.2 points per game lead an offensive attack that’s seventh in the NBA this season by offensive rating. He gets plenty of help from a balanced supporting cast, with five others averaging 12 points or more. With Oladipo presumably off the injury report this time around, and Glenn Robinson III is also back from injury. The Pacers will be a different test at the end of a very trying week.