The Eastern Conference, compared to its sister the Western Conference, is without a doubt the weaker of the two. Throughout the regular season, the Western Conference usually has the better overall teams as displayed by countless power rankings, statistics, and highlights. But when it comes to NBA Championships, of the past ten winning teams, the West has only a slight advantage at 6-4 (with the Spurs winning three of those six times).
Point is, even though the regular season reflects little to no miraculously good teams (minus the one LeBron James is a member of), there’s still a chance for an Eastern team to get a title. At the rate that the 2014 season has been going, the Washington Wizards currently look like the East’s best chance to win another championship–and trust me, they’re ready to bring the fire.
Here’s three reasons that the Wizards will make a huge run in this year’s playoffs:
1. DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Right now the Wizards carry with them a top-10 defense. More specifically, the overall eighth-ranked Wizards give up under 98 points per game. They’re doing this while maintaining the second best spot in overall assists per game (26) as well as holding the ninth spot when it comes to rebounds per game (44).The only team to average better assists per game is the Golden State Warriors.The Warriors, led by standouts Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, are the top team in the Western Conference.
What does this mean? This means that the Wizards have the best assist average in the entire Eastern Conference.
When it comes to rebounds, the Wizards have also made their presence known under the spotlight. Big men underneath like Marcin Gortat & Co. have tallied the necessary second chances and rallied the troops with a chance at something special starting to brew in the nation’s capital.
Especially with a top-ten defense that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
2. TORONTO & ATLANTA WON’T LAST
While it is appropriate to give credit where credit is due, and the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks (currently the one and two seeds in the East; both ahead of the Wizards) have had great starts to this season respectively, it’s fair to say that the Cinderella slipper doesn’t quite fit those franchises.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a quick look at how last season ended for both the Raptors and the Hawks.
Toronto was on a similar hot streak during last season; a year that concluded with them as the third best team in the Eastern Conference behind the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat. A lot of hype was put into this team (too much, in my opinion) and it caused a huge distraction for star players like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Both of them are outstanding athletes on the court, but even the best of us have the tendency to crack if the pressure become too much to bear.
And that’s exactly what happened to the Raptors.
In their first-round match up against the sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets which wasn’t supposed to be a challenge, the Raptors found themselves on the losing end of the scale after the series had concluded. It took a Game 7, a good one at that, for the Nets to pull through with the series win–but hey, in the playoffs you just have to win, it doesn’t matter how you get the “W”.
To make things even more bittersweet for Toronto, Game 7 was a home game for them and it ended with only one point separating the two teams. Toronto learned the hard way…too much too soon equals too big of a problem for progress.
Atlanta, on the other hand, wasn’t given any chance in their first-round match-up against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. At the time, Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and Roy Hibbert were all on fire and there was no stopping Indiana. It even seemed that the Pacers weren’t even worried about any other opponent except the Miami Heat (the team that beat them in the previous Eastern Conference Finals), and all they wanted was revenge.
Well, sorry Pacers, before the Heat came the Hawks. In the Hawks-Pacers series, another seven game stunner, it showed how sometimes being the top seed can be a different way of putting players in tough shoes and can get to their own head instead of their opponents’. The Hawks somehow managed a Game 7 before being put away for good by a late Pacers push.
But now the Hawks find themselves in the reverse position, with a serious chance at home court advantage.
What we learned from both of these teams (Toronto & Atlanta) is that they crack when the pressure is on and that is something you cannot do in the NBA, particularly in the post-season. The Wizards will look to jump right on their weaknesses and exploit them for all it’s worth.
After all, the latest standings show that Washington (15-6) is only one game behind both the Raptors and the Hawks.
Talk about good will hunting.
3. Bradley Beal Is The Real Deal
The Washington Wizards really have something special in their up-and-coming star Bradley Beal. A second year shooting guard out of the University of Florida, Beal has not hesitated to make Washington an immediate threat in the East. Beal has been a serious help and a blessing in more ways than one to fellow stars John Wall, Marcin Gortat, and even Nene.
As the Wizards look to make another run this year, Beal’s 14 points, three assists, and three rebounds per game will go a long way.
If the season were to end today, the Wizards would play the Milwaukee Bucks. Under new head coach Jason Kidd and also under the direction of rookie standout and former Duke star Jabari Parker, the Bucks have made leaps and bounds this year compared to seasons prior. But with the Wizards having home court advantage in this potential first-round match up, there’s not much of a chance anyone can give Milwaukee.
And as much as Jabari Parker is going to help the Bucks eventually build into a legitimate contender, it cannot be a one man show. Problems in LA for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers as well as Rajon Rondo with the Boston Celtics are living testaments to that fact.
Bradley Beal understands that this is a team game. To win big, a team must work together and play for each other not just for themselves, and that’s why Bradley Beal is the real deal in Washington.