Wizards

Quick Links

Celtics' win creates big domino effect with Wizards' loss to Heat in NBA playoff picture

Celtics' win creates big domino effect with Wizards' loss to Heat in NBA playoff picture

The walls are closing in on two well-known regular season goals of the 2016-17 Wizards. With their loss to the Heat on Saturday night, combined with the Boston Celtics' win over the Charlotte Hornets, both reaching 50 wins and securing a top three seed in the East will not be easy for Washington.

Getting to 50 wins is something John Wall, Bradley Beal and others have signified this year as an important step in the Wizards' rise as a franchise. Washington hasn't had a 50-win season in 38 years, the longest drought in the NBA. But now in order to get there they will need to win out and beat both the Pistons and Heat on the road to close their season.

The players have talked more about winning 50 than where they end up in playoff seeding, but the latter is more important at this juncture. With Saturday night's results, the Wizards have essentially backed themselves into a corner in the fourth spot. The Celtics have clinched at least a top three seed and in order for the Wizards to take the third spot from the Raptors, they will have to win out and have Toronto lose each of their last two games. The Wizards are just one game back, but would have to finish with a better record than the Raptors to overcome the head-to-head series tiebreaker.

Not much will be affected in the short-term by the Wizards landing in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, rather than the third. There is not much separating their potential first round opponents. But that small difference could loom large down the road, if the standings hold as they are currently.

The Wizards, if they are fortunate enough to advance a round in the playoffs, would now likely face the defending-champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round. That makes their quest to make the Eastern Conference Finals - another stated goal by Wall and others - much more difficult. The Cavs have been to each of the last two NBA Finals and boast the best player in basketball. No one wants to see them earlier than they have to.

A year that ends with the Wizards losing to the Cavaliers, or another team, in the Eastern Conference Finals would be a success by many measures. It would be their best season since 1978-79. Losing in the second round, where they have been two of the last three years, would probably end in debates about whether that was good enough.

The way things have shaken out in the standings brings up the question of whether the Wizards will adjust their priorities heading into these final two games. Does essentially being locked into the fourth spot give them the opportunity to rest Wall, Beal or others in anticipation of the playoffs?

Wall and head coach Scott Brooks have spoken out against NBA players resting without injury, but the Wizards could find themselves in a situation where it makes perfect sense to give their stars a night off. What if they reach the final game against Miami on Wednesday and have nothing at all to play for?

The Wizards know they will be in the playoffs, but their loss and the Celtics' win have quickly shifted the dynamic. Now the goals may be different for the Wizards, who have to keep an eye on the bigger picture with the playoffs set to begin.

[RELATED: VIDEO: Projected NBA top pick Markelle Fultz goes 1-on-1]

Quick Links

Kobe Bryant received a standing ovation for his final game in DC, then went off

Kobe Bryant received a standing ovation for his final game in DC, then went off

When the Lakers traveled to D.C. on Dec. 2, 2015, for what was Kobe Bryant’s last game in Washington, they were out to one of their worst starts in franchise history.

At 2-15, Los Angeles was in the midst of a 17-win season—still the lowest win total the franchise has ever had. But the 2015-16 campaign will always stand out in the memories of Lakers fans for being the final season of five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant. He announced prior to the year that it’d be his last, setting the stage for a farewell tour as he traveled to opposing arenas for the final time.

Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among the nine people who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Sunday. His death sent shockwaves across the sports landscape, prompting players, fans, coaches and team executives from across the globe to reminisce on some of his greatest moments and achievements.

During that final season, Bryant is most remembered for scoring 60 points in his final game. But those vintages performances were few and far between, as he statistically had the worst year of his career.

Washington wasn’t so fortunate to catch him on one of those off nights.

The Lakers were playing in the second game of a back-to-back, but 37-year-old Bryant wasn’t taking the night off. After receiving a tribute on the scoreboard and standing ovation from the crowd of just over 20,000, Bryant came out of the gates looking like the Mamba of old. He scored 18 points in the first half on 5-of-11 shooting (.455) as Los Angeles went into the break up 57-51.

Heading into the contest, Bryant was averaging just 15.8 points per game. His season high to that point was 24, which he scored in the season opener.

John Wall wouldn’t let the Wizards, who entered the game 7-8 on the year, go down quietly. He flirted with a triple-double, scoring a game-high 34 points with 11 assists and seven rebounds. The Wizards closed the gap and held a one-point lead with a minute to go.

That’s when Bryant took matters into his own hands.

On the ensuing possession, he found some separation and sank a three-pointer to put the Lakers up by two. Marcin Gortat forced in a layup seven seconds later, so Bryant worked himself into a one-on-one situation with Bradley Beal and hit a fadeaway jumper with the same form that had kids everywhere shouting, “Kobe!” every time they shot a crumpled-up sheet of paper into a trash can.

The shot gave Los Angeles a lead it wouldn’t relinquish, and Bryant finished the night with 31 points—including 12 in the fourth quarter.

Washington would get its revenge, beating Bryant and the Lakers on the West Coast later that year. But of all the moments throughout his farewell tour, Bryant’s turn-back-the-clock performance in D.C. stands out as one of his best.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS:

Quick Links

Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game in his last matchup against Michael Jordan

Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game in his last matchup against Michael Jordan

As the basketball world mourns the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, memories of his career and the highlights that made us fall in love with him are surfacing. One of the most well-told narratives of Bryant’s 20-year career was his pursuit of Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all-time. 

Bryant idolized Jordan and was relentless in his pursuit of at least matching Jordan’s six championships. He competed like Jordan, scored like Jordan, berated teammates and opponents alike like Jordan and came up one title short of his idol’s total.

On one night, however, Bryant did get the best of His Airness -- in their last of eight head-to-head matchups. 

On March 28, 2003, a Friday night in Los Angeles, Bryant put on a show, scoring 55 points in what would stand as his highest scoring total ever against the Washington Wizards.

The Lakers defeated the Wizards, 108-94. Jordan, who had just turned 40 that February and was less than a month from ending his legendary career, finished with a team-high 23 points in over 40 minutes.

Bryant was in a different zone, though, dropping 42 points in the first half alone. Through the first two quarters, he made 14 of 19 shots from the field, including 8 of 11 three-point attempts. While he cooled off in the second half, shooting just 1-for-10, he added to his point total by knocking down 10 free throws. The performance stands as the ninth-highest scoring total of Bryant’s career, and his three-point shooting that night -- 9-of-13 -- is the biggest reason the Wizards are the only team he shot over 40 percent from three against in his career.

Going into that game, Bryant was already a three-time NBA champion at 24 years old and seemed to have gained Jordan’s respect as a player. But Jordan may have inadvertendly fueled Bryant's performance that night. Ex-Wizard Gilbert Arenas told a story on "The No Chill Podcast" of MJ telling Bryant he could never fill his shoes after the Wizards defeated the Lakers earlier in the season. Arenas claims Bryant didn't talk to his teammates for two weeks leading up to the rematch -- he internalized the jab from Jordan and turned it into the 55-point game he put up against the Wizards.

After learning of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jordan released a statement through his spokeswoman saying Bryant was like a little brother to him.

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling," the statement read. "I loved Kobe -- he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply -- and took pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”


Jordan and Bryant exchanged some fun and memorable banter in not only that game but in several of their meetings towards the latter part of Jordan’s career. Just a month earlier, the two went head-to-head in the 2003 All-Star Game. Each started, and clocked 36 minutes, in the double-overtime game, Bryant scoring 22 points for the winning Western Conference, Jordan scoring 20 for the East.

Bryant actually finished his career with a 5-3 head-to-head record against Jordan -- four of those matchups coming against the Wizards. Jordan averaged 24.5 points in those games and Bryant averaged 22.8 points. Whether Bryant actually surpassed Jordan or other legends as the greatest basketball player is debatable, but most agree that Bryant’s style and how he approached the game was as close to Jordan as any other player.

There was no better example of this than that March night in 2003.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: