Summary in first half: Thank heaven for the equality of the Eastern Conference, in which even the Wizards dream some playoff play-in dreams. Their 14-20 record is the seventh worst in the NBA, leaving them 12thth in the east, but expect snagging the 10th spot – just 1.5 games away – as a way to keep them going, and the second half of their season is exciting.
We say “keep up” because the Wizards went from moribund (6-17) early in the season interestingly, even a little curiously when they started on the 8-3 range in mid-February which gave them a break. They have also beaten mostly good teams, with a 3-1 trip to the West Coast at the heart of the development. Coach Scott Brooks has gone through his ranks and rotation, building Rui Hachimura’s confidence and defensive influence. Bradley Beal, the league ‘s top winner (32.9 ppg), is the All – Star who was known to everyone no matter what the team record. Robin Lopez has been a major insurance policy at the center with running edge starter Thomas Bryant missing with ACL surgery. Davis Bertans is in shape and rhythm with his firing range again, and then there’s that reckless point guard whose obituaries have proven premature.
Biggest question going into the second half: Has the real Russell Westbrook stood? It seems certain, after much speculation that the former OKC and Houston juggernaut had lost some skill and would have struggled to make any necessary changes to his game. Westbrook seems to have won the argument, as he said all along that the injury to his left quadriceps muscles prevented him early. He has stopped mocking up 3-pointers and started attacking the basket, playing like the old Westbrook in a way that helps the Druids.
In January, Westbrook burned 39.8% overall and averaged 7.4 rpg and 7.9 apg. It wasn’t bad, but in February, it was more accurate (43.8%) while recovering from its triple modes (19.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 9.6 apg). He averaged 39 points-3 in 14 games compared to 37 in seven in January. If the Westbrook who saw the Wizards recently are the ones to get the rest of the way, even playing a .500 ball should get them a proper look at the postseason. Which good lessons await his many young teams.
Playoffs no lottery ?: Let’s go with playoffs, based on what appears to be a legitimate turnaround in the Washington season. Brooks have been hanging in there, as GM Tommy Sheppard is, believing in and sticking to their plan, and their boss is Ted Leonsis – who was in charge of Ernie Grunfeld for, as, forever – still patient. The Wizards have an electric back court, promising youth and an exciting global culture, with a potential second half away from their first 34 games.
– Steve Aschburner