The Cleveland Cavaliers should enjoy their miracle victory over the Washington Wizards on Monday because the latter just learned they can win a playoff series against the defending NBA champions.
Cleveland’s 140-135 overtime victory at Verizon Center really shouldn’t discourage Washington even after ending the latter’s 17-game home streak. It took everything the Cavs possessed, including another legendary shot by LeBron James near the regulation buzzer to force overtime, to oust Washington.
Washington coach Scott Brooks called it “an instant classic.” It was a back-and-forth thriller for three hours not seen in Washington in many, many years. Indeed, this was something last delivered by the great 1970s Bullets teams. Now, this crew has decided they can not only be good, but great.
“They compete. I like guys that leave everything on the floor and compete for their team. I like competitive spirit and we showed that,” Brooks said. “[Cleveland] didn’t win a championship being down 3-1 for nothing. They have a heart of a champion and we were right there with them.”
Said guard Bradley Beal: “This is more of a playoff game than anything. That was definitely a test and a battle for us, and I think we did a tremendous job of handling it.”
Put that type of intensity in a seven-game playoff setting and Washington can endure over the long run. While Cleveland is reportedly eyeing a deal to send Kevin Love to the New York Knicks for Carmelo Anthony, Washington is fine-tuning a roster that keeps getting better.
The real key in the final two months of the season is toughening up for the postseason and getting home-court advantage. Washington has proven it’s a playoff team and not just a midseason flash. The playoffs are coming to Verizon in April.
It’s rarely smart to invest too heavily in one of 82 regular-season games, but the Wiz knew this was a rare national showcase. Washington wanted to finally show fans and media nationwide the Wiz should be taken seriously.
Indeed, this game was so physical that even James fouled out. That’s nearly impossible. Usually, if officials aren’t giving him an extra step, they’re calling minor fouls against his opponents. But this game was a banger with Washington’s Kelly Oubre and Markieff Morris fouling out, too. Marcin Gortat was also one whistle away from fouling out.
The Wiz cared enough for everyone to bring their best game. Beal scored 41 points, Otto Porter added 25 and every starter at least 16. Unfortunately, four Cavs starters each scored at least 22 and their bench outscored the Wiz 24-16.
The rivalry from three straight playoff losses in 2006-08 has resumed and it’s not over. Washington travels to Cleveland on March 25 after losing their first two games of the season series. But, should they meet again in April or May, the postseason promises a classic series.
The Wiz are no longer afraid to be great.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.