Sports

Wizards Open with a Hot Start

New Crew, Guided by Familiar Name, Blazes League

In one of the best starts in 16 years, the Washington Wizards are shaking up the National Basketball Association. The Wizards haven’t given fans a ton to pay attention to the past few years.  Last season they had the past-his-prime-but-walking-triple-double Russell Westbrook who came to Washington in a trade for former Wizard Franchise player John Wall.

But it wasn’t until Nov.1 that they cooled down, losing to the Atlanta Hawks 111-118 for the second loss of the young season with a team that most casual fans hadn’t heard of.

The combination of Bradley Beal and Westbrook never really legitimately had any chance of competing for a championship. Beal had to carry too much of the scoring load which earned him an NBA scoring title last season. Russell Westbrook was never seen as a long term fix, and after a season where a below .500 Wizards made the playoffs via a play-in tournament and lost in short order to the Philadelphia 76ers 4-1 in a best of 7 series, Westbrook decided he wanted out.

After five nondescript years, Tommy Shephard the team’s GM decided to part ways with Coach Scott Brooks. He brought in a familiar face and name, Wes Unseld Jr., to come in and take his first head coaching job in the NBA. Many old school Washington Basketball fans remember his father, Wes Unseld Sr., who brought the franchise it’s only championship in 1978, and later coached and ran the franchise. Wes Jr spent 2005-2011 as an assistant coach with the Wizards and was credited with the defensive schematics for the Denver Nuggets who are considered a good defensive NBA team.  Defense has been a defined weakness for this team for many years prior to Wes Jr’s return.

In the offseason the organization offloaded their coach and traded away Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers, for a load of talent that came back.  Coming back in the LA trade were Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell.   Kuzma and Harrell came to Washington with chips on their shoulders.  Both felt like they were under utilized with the Lakers. Kuzma was a large part of the Lakers plans until they traded for Anthony Davis, which then put Kuzma on the back burner.  The player of that trio that has made the biggest impact in terms of culture and fan interest and court production has been Harrell.  D.C. fans have loved Harrell’s fire and desire, quickly becoming a fan favorite.

“It’s a blessing, man,” he said recently. “I’ve played this game for a good amount of time.  I’ve been places where the fans fell in love with the way I play and stuff like that.  The way the energy is in the building night in and night out.”

The other important cog in that offseason transaction was Spencer Dinwiddie.  Before Brooklyn had Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, they were an upstart, plucky playoff team.  Part of that team was Spencer Dinwiddie leading Brooklyn at the point guard position.

Dinwiddie was brought in to play the point guard in a town with a long history of great point guards.  Rex Chapman, Rod Strickland, Gilbert Arenas, and John Wall.   Dinwiddie is not expected to be a big scorer but a contributor who can distribute the ball and keep the offense moving. He hit the game sealing shot to be the Boston Celtics to give the Wizards a 5-1 start, after missing the final attempt in regulation.

This year the Wizards have a new core, Bradley Beal the teams’ franchise player is no longer going to have to carry the load alone anymore.  This team is exciting, and will make an impact in the playoffs this season. Remember the names Harrell, Kuzma, and Dinwiddie; they will all be key in moving this team forward. Grab a ticket and get down to the arena, the Wizards need your support and for once, they deserve it.

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