The Washington professional basketball team is off to its best start since the 1979 season, a year in which they were defending champs and made it back to the NBA Finals. Washington hasn’t reached those heights since, and with a 25-12 record they’re a threat to at least win the Eastern Conference this season.
Washington will be on for the national TV audience each of the next two nights. They host the San Antonio Spurs tonight (7 PM ET, NBA-TV) and then play at Chicago on Wednesday (8 PM ET, ESPN). Let’s take a brief look at the strengths and weakness of Washington’s basketball team.
First, a word about the language in this article. TheSportsNotebook has made a principled decision to no longer use Washington’s nickname. This is a team that changed its name to appease the politically correct crowd, and I don’t feel that I can in good conscious continue to use a nickname with such offensive origins. The team will just be called “Washington” or “The Washington Professional Basketball Team.”
Washington is built around the backcourt, with John Wall and Bradley Beal and this backcourt is as good as there is. Wall averaged 17 points a game and is dishing ten assists per night. He’s put himself into the conversation with Chris Paul and Tony Parker for the title of best point guard in the NBA. Beal knocks down 15 ppg and is a terrific three-point shooter, hitting 47 percent from behind the arc.
The team in Washington has good depth up front. Marcin Gortat anchors the middle, with 12 points/8 rebounds per game, and the power forward minutes are split between Nene Hilario and Kris Humphries. Collectively, the produce 11 rebounds per game, and Washington is the eighth-ranked rebounding team in the NBA.
Rasual Butler comes off the bench and can shoot the three-ball, connecting at 49 percent. Led by Butler and Beal, Washington hits 39 percent from behind the arc as a team and that’s the best in the NBA. It’s the key to an offense that ranks a respectable, if unspectacular, 13th in efficiency.
It’s defense that wins games in late April, May and June though, and here’s where the news really gets good for Washington. They’re seventh in the NBA in defensive efficiency. It’s probably not quite championship-level—you realistically want to be in the top five—but it’s close enough to be sufficient to win what’s a woefully watered down Eastern Conference this season.
There’s one other important element that wins playoff games, and it’s been saved for last. It’s called experience and championship toughness. Washington took a huge step forward in the offseason when they acquired Paul Pierce, the MVP of the 2008 NBA Finals for the Boston Celtics. Pierce is aging, but he’s still had enough in the tank to average 13 ppg and shoot 45 percent from the floor. His value is only going to increase between now and the end of the season.
Washington is one of four teams—along with Chicago, the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks that have separated themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference. If you ask me to pick today, I think Washington is going to the NBA Finals.
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