April 1, 2018 | United Center | Chicago, IL
I highly doubt the Washington Wizards are deliberately trying to tank out of the No. 6 seed to ensure they do not play the presently No. 3 seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the NBA playoffs, but their performance against the woeful Chicago Bulls on Sunday afternoon says differently. The Bulls are a team that has deliberately showed signs of tanking to improve their positioning in this summer’s NBA draft and did so again by benching starters Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez in the second half as well as all five starters in the fourth quarter. No wonder head coach Scott Brooks called the loss “unacceptable”, which is a word he has had to use all too frequently.
(Photo: Gary Dineen via Getty Images)
In a solid win against the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday, the Wizards shot 46.2 percent (18-for-39) from beyond the arc, while the road team was a miserable 26.1 percent (6-for-23). In the Windy City, Chicago was a fiery 52.9 percent (18-for-34) from beyond the arc, while Washington was just 26.7 percent (8-for-30). The Bulls began 8-for-10 from the field to take a 36-27 lead after the first quarter that they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. The NBA is much of the time a make or miss league and the Wizards did not play with the effort to dig themselves out of the early hole.
Bradley Beal Needs John Wall
Washington smartly decided to hold Wall out of the second leg of a back-to-back because at the end of the day, they have a four-year, $170 million investment in his long-term health. That came at the expense of Beal who had just 15 points on 5-for-17 shooting including misses on all six of his three-point attempts. Without Wall on the court, Beal is constantly the focal point of defenses and is blitzed at every opportunity. In his last four games without Wall, Beal has 51 points on 19-for-59 shooting (32.2 percent) from the field and 3-for-24 shooting (12.5 percent) from beyond the arc. Not coincidentally, Beal had 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting and 6-for-8 from beyond the arc on Saturday with Wall in the lineup. The good news is Wall will be back on the court on Tuesday as well as potentially play in back-to-backs that finish the Wizards’ season.
Jason Smith Over Ian Mahinmi
For just the second time in his Wizards career, Mahinmi was a DNP-Coach’s decision. The same happened to him last month in Miami and the French big responded with strong performances immediately after the benching. Instead, the deep reserve got the backup center minutes. Smith had six points on 3-for-8 shooting and four rebounds in 18 minutes including a flashy dunk over Denzel Valentine, but overall, he is not the solution to backup center given he has been unable to knock down his three-point shot in limited opportunities this season. I assume Scott Brooks just tried to inject a little more energy into his team by playing Smith, but wonder if this is also a tip of his hand that Mahinmi may be out of the playoff rotation should he go with eight guys that only includes Tomas Satoransky, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Mike Scott off the bench.
Another Bad Loss Affecting Seeding
With five games left in the season, I’d say the Wizards have suffered 16 bad losses
that they should not have left. Obviously, every team is going to drop some games that they should, but that has been on the extreme end for Washington as they either lose to bad teams, blow big leads, or both. If they had just won half of those bad losses, then they would be 50-27 with five games left and well positioned to be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Then, they would not have to worry about a potential first round matchup with Cleveland and LeBron James not having lost his last 21 first round games.
A Gift And A Curse
Echoing Adrian Monk (and John Wall when talking about having fresher legs but less rhythm in the playoffs), the Wizards losing to the Bulls does help their chance to not see the Cavaliers in the first round. They now have the same record as the Milwaukee Bucks, 42-35, but Washington still holds onto the six-seed for the time being because they have a better conference record: 27-21 vs. 24-23. Playing a Boston Celtics team likely without both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart, their best player and their best defender, is clearly more favorable than LeBron James and his tenure as king in the East, but Washington cannot afford to tank out of the six-seed. It is important that they start playing the right way, as Brooks constantly preaches, especially with the re-implementation of Wall entering the playoffs to carry over momentum instead of bad habits.
Next Game: Washington will travel to Houston to try and sweep the season series with the Rockets on Tuesday, which would be the most Wizards follow up to Sunday’s loss.