The Washington Wizards have been one of the most surprising teams in the first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs. On Friday night, the No.5 seed in the East looks to take one step closer towards advancing to the conference semifinals.
“There was probably people saying they didn’t think we had a chance. Now everybody is saying how great we are,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said, via the Washington Post. “You can’t read into that. You read into the first one, saying you ain’t worth a crap, you’re going to believe that. Now, you believe you’re the best thing since sliced bread, now you’re in trouble.”
The Wizards reached the postseason, following a five-year drought, and hasn’t one a playoff series since the 2004-2005 season. Despite being decided underdogs, Washington stole the first two games. Now, they return home, looking to take a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Winning in Chicago wasn’t an easy task, but returning home might not be much of a benefit to the Wizards. At 22-19, Washington has the worst home record of any playoff team.
The Bulls were one game over .500 on the road this season, but the way they are playing right now, it might not matter where the game takes place. Chicago’s anemic offense has been exposed against Washington. In two games, the Bulls have shot 42.6 percent from the field and 27 percent from three-point range. Point guard D.J. Augustin is leading the team with 20.5 points per game, but he’s had to do so on almost 19 shots per contest.
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Without the injured Derrick Rose or Luol Deng, who the organization traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers in January, Chicago lacks a legitimate go-to scorer. The Bulls’ need for an elite offensive player has been highlighted in Game One and Game Two, where Chicago combined to score 34 points in both fourth quarters. Down the stretch, the Bulls have been forced to turn to the likes of Joakim Noah, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson, none of whom are top offensive talents. Gibson led the three in the regular season, averaging 13 points per game.
In order for Chicago to win Game Three, their defense will have to play like it did in the regular season, when it was the No.2 ranked unit in the NBA. That means they’ll have to slow down Nene, who has had his way with the Chicago defense. Even while going up against Noah, who was named the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year, Nene is averaging 20.5 points this series. He’s been very efficient, making 19 of his 30 shot attempts.
Chicago may not have a good crunch-time scorer, but Bradley Beal has done the job for Washington. He’s made a few clutch shots in the first two games, including nine points in the final five minutes of regulation in Game Two.
“I don’t like losing,” Beal said, following Tuesday’s overtime victory. “And whatever it takes to win, for this team to win, I’m going to do it.”
Washington is expected keep the Bulls winless in the series. The betting odds at most Las Vegas casinos have the Wizards giving the Bulls three points.
The contest is set to being at 8 p.m. ET, and ESPN will broadcast it on national TV. Viewers can watch a free live stream online with WatchESPN.
Prediction: If Game Three is up for grabs in the fourth quarter, Washington has a big edge. Beal and John Wall give the Wizards two late-game scoring options that the Bulls can’t match. The Wizards don’t have a strong home-court advantage, but that could change in front of a sold-out playoff crowd.
Predicted Score: Washington 98, Chicago 93