The Washington Wizards picked up an impressive win over the Golden State Warriors last night, and the way in which they did it could be a blueprint for playoff success. The Wizards weren’t on top of their game offensively in the 88-85 victory, but their defense was excellent. The Wizards held the Warriors to just 37.5% shooting as a team, and John Wall harassed Stephen Curry into an 8-23 shooting night.
The Wizards got solid all around performances from Trevor Ariza, Nene and Marcin Gortat, and Bradley Beal was able to provide just enough offense for the Wizards to pull out the win. It was Wall who hit the big shot, a three pointer with 1:28 left that turned out to be the game winner. The ability to take and make a big shot like that is a nice step forward for Wall, who is an improving jump shooter but far from a marksman.
What Wall needs little work on, however, is his defending. His size and incredible athleticism give Wall an immediate advantage on every point guard in the NBA except Russell Westbrook, and Wall made sure to use it against the smaller Curry. Wall was able to stay in front of Curry and pressure his shot attempts, and he came up with three steals and one blocked shot. Washington ranks 11th in the league in points allowed, but performances like this one show they could improve upon that ranking.
Third place is just five games ahead of 10th in the weak Eastern Conference, with the Wizards currently sitting 5th overall. They have a very good chance to earn a first round series at home, especially if they continue to defend like they did against the Warriors. If Wall and Beal continue to develop as an elite backcourt, the Wizards will have the opportunity to separate themselves from the back. However, their offense must improve enough to support their strong defense. The Wizards rank 19th in points per game and 18th in shooting percentage, and they currently have a -0.5 point differential.
While the Wizards are far from a finished product, the sad state of the Eastern Conference has opened up opportunities for teams like them. If they can consistently play defense the way they did last night while making some decent offensive improvements, they should be able to secure a top-four seed and could win a playoff series. Obviously there is still a long, long way to go, but right now the Wizards are as good a bet as anyone to emerge as the third best team in the East.