Bomb-battered and broke, London's 1948 Olympics paved the way for future Games.
CAPITAL ONE ARENA -- There’s no secret to the Wizards’ success and struggles this season. When John Wall makes passion plays as he did throughout Sunday’s 128-110 rout over the Los Angeles Lakers, Washington competes. When his energy wavers, the team wobbles.
There’s no denying the direct correlation. Any seasoned basketball observer recognizes the link. Good to great things happen when the Wall Star shines. Wall went beyond good to great against Los Angeles as Washington snapped a four-game winning streak.
He shredded defenders in the open court from the jump as Washington delivered its best start to a game this season. Wall bullied Lance Stephenson for a driving layup and went between the legs for a pinpoint pass to a dunking Sam Dekker. He singular performance included two blocked shots, three steals, four 3-pointers and nearly matched the offensive production for the Lakers’ starting five with a season-high 40 points and 14 assists.
The numbers are cool. The oomph was the wow.
“He's obviously the key,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the five-time All-Star. “Him and Brad [Beal] are the key, they are the best players, they are All-Star players, but they need to bring that energy every night.”
Wall’s up-tempo style makes the Wizards go. The offense appears stuck in first gear when he’s slow out of the blocks. Washington labored in first quarters throughout the season, ranking 28th with 30.3 points allowed per game.
The starters worked the Lakers immediately.
Wall dazzled with 12 points and three assists just seven minutes into the game as the Wizards led 26-8.
Their collective foot remained on the gas. With Wall in attack mode on both ends, the margin never dipped below six. Wall wouldn’t allow it.
“He dictated the game,” Lakers star and traditional Wizards nemesis LeBron James said. “He had energy and we did not. He kept us on our heels all night. John that is what he is, one-man fast break. … He had us on our heels and he saw a few layups go in transition, then his jump shot started going and you are not going to stop him when he does that.”
Wall sank 16 of 27 shots from the field. The Lakers’ starting five made 21 shots combined and only had 10 assists.
“We just came out with a lot of energy,” Wall said. “We did a great job on both ends of the court – knocking down shots and being aggressive defensively.”
He didn’t mean it this way, but there’s a royal we aspect to Wall’s statement. The Wizards came out and remained energized because the role players take their cue from the five-time All-Star along with Beal.
“It goes on them and then our roles players need to be stars in their roles. That's what makes good teams go,” Brooks said. “We have been banged up, we are playing different lineups but that is no excuse to play hard. That's your job, you have to do that. Hopefully this type of game can get us to do that consistently.”
The Wizards played a third consecutive game without starting forward Otto Porter (right knee contusion). This was their first game since Saturday’s trade that shipped out Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers for ex-Wizard Trevor Ariza. One of the league’s top 3-and-D performers, Ariza’s veteran presence ideally helps Washington find a consistent performance level.
The Wizards (12-18) didn’t enter this season aiming for a .500 record. If that’s their mark now, it’s unlikely the organization executes the Ariza trade. Some spark was required. The roster pieces largely made sense but simply didn’t click.
They are ways of sending a message without trading players. Whether that was part of the organization ploy or not, Wall didn’t believe the team revved up against the popular Lakers because of the deal.
“Everybody out there just played with a lot of energy probably because we were shorthanded and knowing we could get embarrassed playing against LeBron,” Wall said. “Knowing it’s going to be a lot of Lakers fans (in the arena). I think we got up for the game."
“I think we have to find a way to get up for those teams that are not the Lakers or the Warriors, those dominant teams in the East and the West. When we figure it out then we’ll be one of those teams that people start taking seriously and start being consistent.”
Ariza should join the group Monday when the trade becomes official. His debut Tuesday when Washington visits the 6-23 Atlanta Hawks, also known as not the Lakers or Warriors. Ariza's arrival alone won’t help the team author a comeback. It’s not solely on Wall either.
He’s just the player the others feed off. When he figures out how to keep the energy consistent, good bet the Wizards would as well.
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Through much of the Alex Ovechkin era of the Caps, Washington has been among the top teams in the NHL if not the top team in the standings.
As fun as it has been to watch over the years, repeated playoff disappointments made it hard to appreciate just how good those seasons were. Every year, fans and media alike would start to debate during the season whether dominant regular seasons should be celebrated. Though I was never dismissive – it’s hard to win a division championship and even harder to win a Presidents’ Trophy – I was among those who felt those regular seasons were hollow without a deep playoff run.
After seeing the Caps go all the way last season and win the Stanley Cup, however, it’s time to reevaluate.
Regular season success may not be the ultimate goal, but let’s look around the rest of the city. Despite wins on Sunday, both the Redskins and Wizards are struggling and the Nationals are on the verge of losing arguably their best player. It’s nice for fans to have a team that has won 12 of its last 14 games and who is led by an all-time great to cheer for and to celebrate.
It probably wouldn’t feel that way without a Cup, but last year’s championship removes the “but.” The Caps have won 12 of 24 but…it doesn’t mean anything because they can’t win in the playoffs. Ovechkin leads the league in goals and set a career-best 14-game point streak but…he still hasn’t won a Cup.
Without the constant undercutting of every single accomplishment, now we can all just enjoy and appreciate everything Ovechkin and this team does.
It may not be as fun as the playoffs, it doesn’t mean as much as the playoffs, but considering how the rest of the local teams are doing, this regular season is a heck of a lot more enjoyable to watch especially now with a Stanley Cup banner hanging over head.
Here are a few observations from the past week:
• You know about the current exploits of Ovechkin so I won’t take the time to relist them all. He now has 636 career goals. That puts him 258 behind Wayne Gretzky’s 894. Let’s say he scores another 30 goals this season for 59 total. He is 33-years-old now. Even if he plays until he’s 40, he would have to average about 34 goals per season for another seven seasons just to catch Gretzky. I still don’t think it’s going to happen…but I am thinking a lot more about it now than I was before the season. It is at least worth talking about, even if it still seems unlikely.
• I do not think Pheonix Copley is as good a goalie as Philipp Grubauer is, but that doesn’t matter. Having two starting caliber goalies is a luxury few teams can afford. You just need someone who you have faith can win you a game when you put him in net and the Caps certainly have that. With his win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, Pheonix Copley earned his seventh win of the season. Last year, Grubauer did not earn his seventh win until Feb. 24.
• Playing a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday seemed like a good opportunity to get Andre Burakovsky back into the lineup. The fact that Todd Reirden elected to keep him as a healthy scratch is a pretty strong indication for where the team feels Burakovsky’s game is right now.
• The third line has been underperforming of late which is becoming more apparent given the strong play of the fourth line. A possible way to spark some depth production? Move T.J. Oshie to the third line. Don’t look at this like a demotion. Barry Trotz played Lars Eller and Oshie together last season and I was struck by how much Oshie raved about playing and practicing with Eller in the locker room. Putting Oshie on the third instantly makes that line more offensively dangerous and allows for Tom Wilson to move back to the top where he was doing the most of his damage this season. The only caveat is that I am not sure this is a move you can make without also moving Nicklas Backstrom to the second line as this would otherwise set up a Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Brett Connolly second line which is solid offensively, but not all that defensively balanced.
The Caps look as good as any team in the NHL right now, but just how good are they according to the rankings?
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