After a close win over the Rockets last night in Houston, the Wizards enter tonight's matchup with the Mavs at 22-8. After recent losses to the Suns and Bulls, that game has to be considered a signature win for one of the East's top teams.
They'll continue their Western Conference road trip in Dallas tonight as the Mavs look to build some positive momentum themselves. We spoke with Michael D. Sykes of Bullets Forever about how this season is unfolding for Washington.
Do people outside of DC appreciate how good John Wall is playing this season?I would have to say so at this point. You wouldn't know it from the lack of love the Wizards get when it comes to playing on national television. They're going to be featured a lot more this season, but even last year when they made their run into the playoffs they weren't covered heavily.
But the people are showing they know how well he's playing this year. He's the leading All-Star vote-getter in the Eastern Conference for their backcourt positions. He's ahead of his peers like Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague. He's even eclipsed Dwyane Wade at this point. It's really been spectacular what he's been able to do on both ends of the floor this year and more people are starting to notice.
The Western Conference is a dogfight and good teams in the East are often slighted by comparison. Are the Wizards a team that's just really great in the Eastern Conference or do they have an actual shot to make the finals?I would say they have a shot to make the Finals, but they'll have to fight to get out of the conference. They have one of the top defenses in the league, but continue to struggle when it comes to their offense and shot selection. But they've been able to clamp down on offenses like the Cavs and the Clippers.
They were competitive with Dallas the last time we played and have beaten every other Western Conference opponent they've seen this year with the exception of the Phoenix Suns. This team has nights when they're just off, like any other team, but they do a lot of good things and have a pretty solid roster. I like their chances.
Trevor Ariza was considered a potential free agent target for the Mavs but ended up signing with the Rockets before they opted not to match an offer sheet to Chandler Parsons this summer. A third of the way into the season, what's been the impact of Ariza's departure from the Wizards?
To be honest, there hasn't really been a huge one. Rasual Butler has emerged as a better three point shooter so far in the season and hasn't really hit a speed bump yet. The defense now is actually a tad bit above what it was when Ariza was still on the roster.
Ariza is obviously the better defender between he and Pierce, but the team has become so much deeper with the money they committed to guys like Pierce and Kris Humphires. Wall has become the best defender at the point guard position in the league and the rest of the team is following suit.
We probably won't feel Ariza's absence until the playoffs when the Wizards have to face dominant wings in the Eastern Conference like LeBron James, DeMar Derozan and Jimmy Butler. The Wizards don't really have anyone they can just stick on those guys. Pierce isn't the defender he used to be and Otto Porter just is not experienced enough to take on that burden.
DeJuan Blair was a fan favorite in his lone Mavericks season but he's been buried on the Wizards bench so far this year. Why has he struggled to carve out a role on this team?
It really isn't any fault of his own. He just hasn't found a niche within the team's concepts yet. He doesn't space the floor out as much as Kris Humprhies and Kevin Seraphin on occasion. He's a solid rebounder, but Humphries is as well. Drew Gooden has clout with the team and doesn't really play much anyway.
Blair will have an opportunity in this long season to carve out minutes for himself, but Wittman really makes his players earn those minutes. Hopefully, we'll see him playing in a productive role at some point soon.