With a win over the Brooklyn Nets Friday night, the Washington Wizards appear to have gotten themselves back into their groove. It was a nice change of pace following a five-game stretch where they came out only 1-4.
Unfortunately, they can’t celebrate because they’re already on their way to play the Cleveland Cavaliers, and only one thing should be on their mind: redemption.
Not only for their aforementioned five-game slip, but for their last match-up against the top-seeded Cavs. So let’s take a quick rewind back through time.
It was Monday, February 6. Washington was playing their best brand of basketball of the season, winning 14 of their last 16, when they took on the top-seeded Cavaliers, at the Verizon Center. None of us knew we were about to witness one of, if not the best game of the season. As soon as the ball was tipped-off, you could tell it would be an all-out war.
It was a game of back-and-forths, neither side getting into a comfortable enough position to ease the load off their starters. Both offenses were as ferocious as a bat out of Hell, looking damn-near unstoppable against whatever defense you could try to put them up against.
It was closely contested through every quarter, but Washington gained a one point lead in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. LeBron James had a chance to put his team back up by one, but somehow, he missed the go-ahead lay-up. The Wizards were sent to the free throw line following the rebound, John Wall converted both.
Only 3.4 seconds remained, and the Cavs were out of timeouts… that’s when this happened:
LeBron hit one of the most ridiculous shots of his career, and didn’t leave Washington with enough time to get a proper shot off, so the game headed to overtime. Only, he didn’t give the Cavs the momentum everyone though that shot would heading into OT.
For the first minutes of extra time, it was the Wizards who gained the advantage. They jumped out to a quick four point lead, but they just couldn’t hold. Cleveland tied it back up at 127 a piece, and overtime started to look eerily similar to the rest of the game.
Both sides continued to trade leads until Kyrie Irving hit a three-point shot with 35 seconds remaining in the game. Washington’s Bradley Beal had the opportunity to tie the game up with a three-pointer of his own with only 4 seconds left in the game, but he missed.
The Cavs went on to win, 140-135.
Fast forward back to today.
The Cavs are still the top seed in the East, and the Wizards still the third seed. Only Saturday’s game may have larger repercussions than any game either team has played all season.
Cleveland is now only one game ahead of the Boston Celtics for control over the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Washington is not too far behind either, back only 3.5 games. Meaning if D.C. were to win, the race for the home court advantage throughout the playoffs gets that much more competitive. Making it hard to expect to see anything less than either of these teams’ a-games Saturday night.
As if this game didn’t need anymore intrigue though, there’s a high chance that two of this games top stars, John Wall and LeBron James, won’t be at their peak performance.
James may be limited by the scratched cornea in his right eye that he suffered in Cleveland’s win over the Charlotte Hornets Friday night.
The four-time league MVP spoke to the possibility of him sitting this game out:
“If coach decides to give me a game off, it’s not because I’m resting. It’s because I’m banged up.”
For Wall, it’s the migraine-like symptoms that sidelined him for Friday’s morning shootarounds before the Wizards’ match-up against the Brooklyn Nets. Regardless of the pain, he still played in a winning effort over the Nets, and spoke after the game to the extent of the pain.
“It’s not as bad as it was this morning. Trying to do as much treatment as I can and prepare myself for (Saturday).”
The possibility that arguably the two best players in this game will be restricted Saturday night only further adds interest to this game. There’s a chance -small as it may be- that this could be a serious test as the strength of the reserves, for both teams. Possibly showing us who to favor in come playoff time. (By showing us which side is deeper, we can better speculate which superstar could have more help when they need it.)
It’s only hours until this game tips-off, meaning we likely won’t know if LeBron or Wall will suit up until moments before the game starts. Even if they do play, we won’t know how much until it’s already on, so we’ll all just have to wait and see.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The game will be nationally televised on NBATV.