GDHQNBA15_2pg-Washington Wizards

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EASTERN CONFERENCE SOUTHEAST DIVISION Washington The Washington Wizards went five years without qualifying for a berth in the playoffs and nearly a decade without advancing once they did. So it was understandable why basketball fans in nation’s capital went wild when the team did both last season and why they’ve set expectations sky-high heading into the 2014-15 season. The Wizards bring back one of the NBA’s most exciting young backcourts, in explosive point guard John Wall (24) and his perfect complement, Bradley Beal (21), a pair of versatile 6-11 bigs in Marcin Gortat and Nene up front, and a deeper bench than 2013-14. The offseason signings of veteran free-agent guard Paul Pierce and forwards DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries make it clear that Coach Randy Wittman, re-signed for three years during the summer, and GM Ernie Grunfeld are thinking big—as in a Southeast Division title, homecourt advantage and a long playoff run. Defense Washington defended very well last season, holding teams to 99.4 ppg, tied for eighth in the League with New York. They were especially solid in the paint, where the 6-11 Gortat, acquired just prior to the 2013- 14 season, took root. The 30-year-old, seven-year veteran, had one of his best seasons, ranking ninth in the League in rebounds, defensive rebounds and blocks, and was in the top 15 in both blocks per game and rebounds per game. He came on especially strong in the second half, pulling in 10.8 rebounds in the second half. The Wizards similarly had a strong second half, going 19-10 and holding opponents to 99.2 ppg, down from 99.5 in the first half. While that 0.3 may not seem like much, Washington’s ability to push opponents away from the century mark was huge, as the Wizards were 30-12 when holding opponents below 100 points, 14-26 when they did not. Wittman had his team committed to attacking the defensive glass, as opponents pulled in the fourthfewest offensive rebounds. The Wizards believe the acquisition of Blair and Humphries will add depth up front and will look for another solid season out of 33-year-old Drew Gooden, in his 13th season, and continued development from 2013 first-round pick (third overall pick) Otto Porter, who has showed signs of rebounding from his tough rookie year by grabbing 4.1 rebounds and making 1.6 steals in only 27 minutes of action during the preseason. Washington loses a little bit at the three defensively, as Pierce is not the defender Trevor Ariza is, but Pierce can only be exploited if opposing guards can get the ball into his hands. Wall, one of the best on-ball defenders in the game, will make that difficult. His quick hands helped him finish fourth in the League in steals last season (149) and eighth in steals per game (1.8 spg). Wall wasn’t the only lightfingered Wizard, as the team was sixth in the East and 11th in the League in steals. Washington will miss starting shooting guard Bradley Beal and Martell Webster, both recovering from injuries. The likely starter at the two will be former Georgia Tech guard Glen Rice, Jr. Rice can be a tough matchup, as he’s a lanky 6-6, with long arms and is a solid defender. The 6-8 Porter also showed he can be counted on as a lockdown defender. Offense Washington finished 15th in the NBA in 2013-14, scoring 100.7 ppg, a tick below the 101 League average. That was good enough to rank fourth in the East, although, oddly, still was no better than third in the Southeast behind Miami and Atlanta. The Wizards should rise above the League average and blow past every team in the division. It just might take time to get things to get going. How long depends on how long Beal needs to rehab his fractured left wrist and get back into game shape. Wall still will be the catalyst for the high-octane attack. The four-year veteran point John Wall Dave Sandford/NBAE/Getty Images


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