Wizards face Nets Sunday afternoon in key seeding game
On Sunday, the Wizards and Nets meet at 2:00 P.M. at HP Field House in what is likely to be the most pivotal seeding game on each team’s schedule. Washington, currently ninth in the Eastern Conference, is coming off a loss to Phoenix while Brooklyn, currently eighth, is looking to bounce back from a loss to the Magic.
HP Field House | 2:00 P.M. | NBCSW | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Shabazz Napier, G – Troy Brown Jr., F – Isaac Bonga, F – Rui Hachimura, C – Thomas Bryant
Nets: G – Tyler Johnson, G – Caris LeVert, F – Joe Harris, F – Lance Thomas, C – Jarrett Allen
Wizards: Garrison Mathews (personal reasons – out)
Nets: Jamal Crawford (conditioning – out)
An updated look at the race for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed
With Orlando’s win over Brooklyn on Friday, the Magic vaulted the shorthanded Nets for the seven seed in the Eastern Conference, clearing the way for a one-on-one battle between the Wizards and Nets for the final playoff spot. Orlando’s roster, essentially identical to their regular season roster, has a clear upper hand on Nets and Wizards rotations decimated by opt outs. That being the case, Sunday’s matchup between Brooklyn and Washington will go a long way in determining the outcome of the race. The Wizards currently sit six games behind the Nets in the Eastern Conference standings, but only need to get within four games by the end of the seeding games to trigger a double-elimination play-in series. That two-game gap can be cut in half with a win on Sunday, which would set up a six-game sprint to the finish between the two teams.
Hachimura’s aggressiveness key to opening up the Wizards’ offense
After leading the team in scoring in all three scrimmages, Rui Hachimura totaled a team-high 21 points on 8-15 (.533) from the field and 5-5 (1.000) from the line Friday against Phoenix. The rookie also added a team-high eight rebounds. Hachimura didn’t attempt a single 3-pointer and was noticeably aggressive in trying to get to the rim, taking 10 of his 15 shots within 10 feet of the basket. Five times he leaned on his go-to mid-range jumper, hitting three of them.
“I thought he also challenged himself to attack the basket,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said of Hachimura postgame. “(Phoenix has) some long defenders down there, but I thought he mixed it up pretty well…I thought he played a pretty solid game.”
Against the Nets, getting to the basket could be more of a challenge as Hachimura and the Wizards go up against Brooklyn center Jarrett Allen, who averages 1.3 blocks per game and is holding opponents to 51.3% shooting within six feet of the rim. On Friday, Orlando scored just 44 of their 128 points in the paint against Brooklyn. However, with DeAndre Jordan out, the Nets lack depth at the position. If Hachimura brings the same aggressiveness he brought on Friday, he and the Wizards could attempt to push Allen into early foul trouble and open up the paint, taking some of the burden off the shorthanded Wizards’ offense to score from the perimeter.
Assessing the Nets’ rotation
Going into the restart, the Nets roster was one of the biggest question marks across the entire league. Who would fill the shoes of the handful of regular rotation players not in Orlando? On Friday against the Magic, no single player emerged as an answer to that question. Only five Nets players scored in double figures and the only one to cross the 20-point threshold, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, scored 17 of his points in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided. On the defensive end, the Nets struggled to slow down a Magic offense that ranked 23rd in the league in offensive rating this season.
Guarding the Nets requires far different approach than the Wizards employed against the Suns, a team spearheaded by two primary offensive threats in Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. No player on Brooklyn’s roster poses a threat to the level of Booker and Ayton, but wings Caris LeVert and Joe Harris have proven to be viable scorers.