Washington Wizards: Is This The Year They Exorcise Their LeBron Playoff Demons?

Feb 6, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the third quarter at Verizon Center. Cleveland Cavaliers defeated Washington Wizards 140-135 in third quarter. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 6, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) shoots over Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the third quarter at Verizon Center. Cleveland Cavaliers defeated Washington Wizards 140-135 in third quarter. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

Fresh off a historic regular season, is this finally the year that the Washington Wizards exorcise their LeBron playoff demons?

After a 2-8 start, the Washington Wizards own the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference with an overall record of 46-29. In Tuesday’s 119-108 victory over the bottom feeder Los Angeles Lakers, Washington captured its first division crown ending the historic 38-year drought, that stood over the franchise.

The last time Washington won a division title was 1979, a team CSN’s Wizards broadcaster Phil Chenier was a part of. During that time, Kobe Bryant wasn’t even born yet and Tim Duncan was one-year-old.

Washington’s last 50-win season was (1978-79) and there only four wins away from ending the NBA’s longest 50-win drought.

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So, the question remains, are the Washington Wizards ready to take down LeBron James?

Devoted D.C fans remember those intense playoff battles against LeBron during his first stint in Cleveland, when the rivalry between Cleveland and Washington started. Gilbert Arenas or “Agent 0” won the hearts of Washington fans, with his clutch shooting and amazing offensive ability.

Unfortunately, James always had Washington’s number in the postseason. In 2006, Cleveland beat Washington in six games. In 2007, Cleveland brought out the broomsticks, sending the Wizards home in four games. In 2008, Cleveland would take Washington out in six games once again, ending an era for the team.

Washington wouldn’t see the playoffs again until 2014, advancing to the Conference Semifinals before Indiana took them out in six games. Fast forward to 2017, Washington looks ready for another run at King James.

Taking down LeBron James isn’t an easy thing to do. James is coming off six straight Finals appearances, which no other person in league history has done. At age 32, James is averaging career highs in assists (8.6) and rebounds (8.4), on top of his usual 26.0 scoring average.

Remind you, James is doing this in 37.5 minutes a night, which ranks 2nd in the NBA and 10th most in his career. The Individual play of James warrants a seventh finals appearance but his team’s performance recently says otherwise.

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Cleveland’s atrocious defense remains a hot topic around league circles. They’ve surrendered 100-plus points in 13 of their last 16 games, their defensive rating ranks 23rd, allowing 108 points per 100 possessions. In defending transition (1.20 points allowed) and the pick-and-roll (0.91 points allowed) Cleveland’s dead last.

During the month of March, Cleveland went 6-10. During the woeful month, the Cavaliers dropped games to sub .500 teams Denver, Detroit and Miami (twice).

Hell, it’s been so bad for Cleveland, one of San Antonio’s beat writers said “This was the worst team I’ve seen in a long time.” Mind you, the Spurs were two days removed from beating the New York Knicks, a team ESPN.com ranked 30th in terms of front-office management on its guidance and leadership in terms of how it affects overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.

At the same time that the Spurs were washing the Knicks, Washington gave the defending champs all they could handle, following big games from John Wall (37 points, 11 assists) and Bradley Beal (27 points, 6 assists) to a 127-115 victory.

We can’t forget the epic battle between the teams on February 6th, either. Washington had the game won until James answered with a remarkable three-pointer, taking the game into overtime where Cleveland secured the victory. Amongst many people, the game remembers as “The Game of the Year” and that’s when excitement towards a potential matchup in the postseason heated up.

Factor in Washington’s play recent and Cleveland’s struggles, the Wizards have reason to hope this year. You could even break down Washington’s roster to determine their chances.

One of Washington’s biggest issues was their bench. In January, Washington’s bench was considered close to worst in NBA history. At one point, their bench posted a NET Efficiency Recap of -11.3 per 48 minutes of play.

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  • Fast forward into March, after adding Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Jennings, their bench still ranks dead last. However, Bogdanovic brings a spark from the second unit with his lights-out shooting, although inconsistent. Jennings’ playmaking skills give John Wall room to pick up rest.

    As for their starting unit, Otto Porter Jr has revolutionized his game and Bradley Beal continues to silence critics with this new aggression while staying healthy.  John Wall remains extravagant with his dominance, as head coach Doc Rivers described as “MVPish” earlier this week.

    Besides their own court success, Washington has created believers within league circles. Yesterday during a segment of SC6, Michael Smith went on to assert his belief in Washington’s chances against Cleveland this postseason:“It really does feel like the Wizards particularly John Wall do not get enough love day in and day out for they have been since really December, really good. They can do this, I believe in this team”

    Now it’s being reported Tyronn Lue has an idea on fixing the defense and LeBron’s comments supported that. “We’re not in playoff mode yet,LeBron said. Meaning teams could be in for a surprise come the first round. Still, Washington’s best chance to take down LeBron remains this season, especially with their recent struggles.

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    According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Cleveland’s 6-10 March record was the first time LeBron experienced double-digit losses in a month since his rookie season. Along with that, ESPN’s NBA Basketball Power Index Playoff Odds (BPI) gives Cleveland a 3.4% chance to repeat. Case being, nothing is certain Cleveland will make the finals, while Washington appears eager to knock off its franchise “LeBron Playoff Demons” once and for all.