The Wizards are a very different team this year than in the past. The Warriors learned that the hard way Tuesday night in a 112-108 upset loss at Verizon Center.
Not only does Washington have a better record, but also opponents view the team and its players with significantly more respect. You could hear it in Golden State's comments to the media after the game.
The Warriors kept circling a common theme: that game versus the Wizards felt like the playoffs. And perhaps more remarkably, the 2015 NBA Champions seemed to feel some honor in almost pulling off a comeback against Washington.
Let me run this back for you: The Warriors, who appeared in the last two NBA Finals and won 73 regular-season games last year, were impressed with how they hung with the Wizards. The super team of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson found positives in the loss.
“It was a hell of a basketball game. Fans got their money’s worth," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. "It was great competition and I liked how we came back after we were thrown for a loop early on.”
Shaun Livingston straight-up called the contest a "playoff game."
"The way that [the Wizards] jumped on us. They’re a talented team, everybody kind of knows that and I think the way that we responded and kind of grinded the game out," he said.
Curry, last year's MVP, felt the same despite missing an open shot that could have tied the game in the last three seconds.
"We played with so much intensity to get ourselves back in the game," he said. "You know to get the last shot, obviously it did not go our way there. I missed that shot. It could have gone a different way, but that is playoff-type basketball. It was intense, a good test for us the way our games have been going the last few weeks.”
Wizards players have long insisted that they don't get enough respect in the NBA, whether it's from officials or television schedules. In a way, a victory over the top team in the NBA should be enough vindication, but there's something sweet – and perhaps significant – about the vocal admiration of your most elite peers.
When asked what they see in this year's Wizards team, Warriors players were quick to point out how much they've improved.
Though not known for heaping praise on opponents, Green noted what a big contribition shooting guard Bradley Beal has made this season.
"I think before, they’ve had good players and they’ll show that in stretches and in spurts. But they’re a good team now," Green said. "And then Brad [Beal] is healthy. I think that’s been a huge thing over the last couple years. Brad goes out, you’re missing 20-some points off the floor and that’s hard to overcome. So with them having a healthy team, they’ve made a couple trades and brought in a few guys that’s helping them out a lot, but they’re just a better team.”
Curry admitted that he had a "tough" matchup with John Wall because of all the ways the Wizards star can impact a game. "He’s always on the attack and you gotta play well to win that match up. And he did it a different way tonight," Curry said.
"Neither one of us shot particularly well, but they ran a lot of good sets and he was great at making the right decisions. That back-and-forth is pretty fun so, you know, a lot of talent on that floor all the way around."
But Curry was also impressed with Washington's confidence in its identity. So much that he slipped in a warning to whomever faces the Wizards in the playoffs.
"They are healthy and they have a good rhythm, and they know who they are, and how they are going to be successful. They have individual guys playing well and it shows in the win column, so they are going to be tough out in the playoffs and, we’ll see what they do.”
Here's hoping the Warriors' words get back to the Wizards... and whomever makes the national TV schedules.
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