The regular season and the playoffs are simply not the same, and in the NBA the difference between the two may be more pronounced than in any major sports league.
The Washington Wizards are showing us this quite clearly today. The Wizards have advanced to the second round of the postseason after making mincemeat of the Toronto Raptors in a sweep. Now, they wait and rest as the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets carry on with their 2-2 deadlock of a series for the right to face them.
It’s looking like this won’t be much of a privilege. Point guard John Wall has been arguably the MVP of this year’s second season, averaging 12.5 assists per game as he zips through defenses and makes life easy for Washington bigs and perimeter shooters. Starting center Marcin Gortat is shooting 75 percent from the floor. Paul Pierce is emboldening the whole crew, talking a brand of trash that breaks enemies down on their insides.
Perhaps most important of all, though, is that head coach Randy Wittman seems to have pulled his head out of the mud. After a season spent struggling through frustrating lineups and play calls, he’s suddenly utilizing a five-man set that includes Pierce as a stretch power forward and makes the Wizards look frequently unguardable.
Was Wittman playing possum all along? This is an idea that fans and analysts have recently had fun with, particularly given this seemingly telling moment, in which the supposedly witless leader couldn’t figure out his clipboard:
With the Hawks looking taxed by a team that barely made the playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers losing Kevin Love for the postseason and the Chicago Bulls struggling against the Milwaukee Bucks, Washington suddenly almost appears to be the favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference.
— John Wilmes