by Patrick Smith
If you're not watching the Wizards in the NBA playoffs, you're missing something cool.
If you're not watching the Washington Wizards-Chicago Bulls NBA playoff series -- and you're probably not watching it -- you're missing something kind of wonderful.
As I write this Tuesday morning, the Wizards own a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. One more win and the Wiz advance. But more on that later.
Why should you care? Well, the Wizards used to be the Bullets. And the Bullets used to be in Baltimore. Talk to a certain generation of Baltimore sports fans and you'll find a real fondness for the NBA franchise that now resides in DC's Chinatown neighborhood.
This is a version of the franchise that your granddad remembers playing at the Baltimore Coliseum over on Monroe Street, near North Avenue. The Coliseum's gone now, a pile of rubble across from Frank Reid's megachurch. After Baltimore Bullets v.1.0 folded in 1954, the second coming emerged nine years later down at the Civic Center. That's the team in the playoffs today.
I'm not deft enough with words to describe how awful the Bullets/Wizards have been since a few brief glory years in the 1970s. Beyond awful. Bad management, bad players, bad draft picks. Fat guys, sideshow freaks, the Capital Centre in Landover. (Remember the Cap Centre?) The handful of Wizards/Bullets postseason appearances have been snuffed out pretty quickly.
And this one will likely be snuffed out as well. But not before the team's made some pretty entertaining noise. On Sunday, the Wiz took a 3-1 lead in their first-round series against the Bulls. To call the Wizards underdogs in the series does an injustice to underdogs.
But now, the best backcourt in the NBA - John Wall and Bradley Beal - is making plays that Washington-Baltimore fans aren't used to.
Chicago's a bruising defensive team, using sheer muscle to keep opponents from scoring. Trouble is, they themselves do not score many points. And the Wiz are faster, stronger and more explosive than the Bulls. How the hell did that happen?
The Wiz even lost their giant, single-named Brazilian center Nené after he headbutted the annoying Jimmy Butler in the Game 3 loss. Nené was ejected from Game 3 and suspended for Game 4. Turns out, Game 4 was just a rest for Nené, as the Wiz won, 98-89. Washington scored the game's first 14 points and never turned off the jets. A thunderous, two-handed dunk by Trevor Ariza sealed the deal late in the fourth quarter and the DC crowd purged the demons that haunted the franchise since about 1977.
Wizards fans know better than to count unhatched chickens. Most people refer to a 3-1 playoff series lead as “commanding.” Wiz fans know that no lead is commanding. There is no driver’s seat. There’s one more game to win before the Bulls solve the weird puzzle that is the Wizards.
Meanwhile, every now and then, Wiz fans very quietly peek at the series between the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks. Indiana, the shakiest number-one seed in the history of round, orange, bouncy balls, is in danger of losing to Atlanta, who finished the regular season six games under .500 and barely edged out the atrocious New York Knicks for the last playoff spot.
Whichever team wins the sack race that is Indiana-vs-Atlanta will face the winner of Washington-Chicago. Ever since the Michael Jordan years, Bulls fans have considered a playoff berth an afterthought. Springtime basketball in DC, on the other hand, has been a rarity.
It could all come crashing down. The Bulls could win two straight and send the Wizards to the golf courses. Far stranger things have happened. But for the first four games of the series, Chicago has played scared.
If you’re reading this before Tuesday night, be sure to watch Game 5. If it’s after Tuesday, do yourself a favor an watch the next Wizards playoff game, no matter who they’re playing.