There is nothing worse in the NBA than not having a plan. Teams exist on two basic polarities, as they are either competing for the playoffs or a championship or rebuilding for the future. Both strategies rely on hope. The hope that perhaps, if things break the right way this year or the next, a championship is attainable. Or, on the opposite end, the dream of the unrealized potential of young players, future draft picks, and the stars that can be attracted through cap space.
Without that hope, a team drags listlessly towards the unknown horizon and troubled waters. At the moment, both the Wizards and the Wolves are meandering towards that empty sea.
Both teams can point to injuries as an excuse. John Wall was signed to one of the largest contract extensions in the NBA and his injuries have forced him out this year and the next. Robert Covington and others have missed significant time this season, leaving the Wolves lurching from one lineup to another as they struggle to remain relevant.
But this future was easy enough to see coming. Many Wizards fans have long argued for a re-tool or rebuild of the team when it was clear that the Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter core was not going to lead to any success. It did the Wizards no favors that they continued to mortgage draft picks for short term help. Even this year, the Wizards traded Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers for Trevor Ariza, who is signed for just this year. The salary cap hell that the Wizards found themselves in finally manifested in a salary dump of Otto Porter for Jabari Parker, who can be waived next year.
The Wolves, of course, face their own set of problems that we know all too well. The basis of a core is there, but Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng, and Jeff Teague’s contracts make any sort of short-term improvement implausible barring drastic changes.
A simple re-tool for both of these teams is likely impossible, as they are neither good enough to compete nor bad enough to hope for the future.
But for now, they have to play a basketball game against each other tonight.
Neither the Wolves or Wizards have been officially eliminated from the playoffs, but both teams are sitting four games back from the 8th seed with several teams in between them and playoff contention. In the East, it is certainly easier to go on a late-season run that can propel a team to the playoffs, but the Wizards have lost the last five of six games, with the lone victory coming against the Nets.
The Wolves have an absolutely brutal schedule to close out the season, but if they were to coalesce the field is open if they can go on a run, particularly with the Lakers and Spurs struggling. But this team has not shown any indication that they have that sort of consistency in them.
So what will we be watching for tonight in this battle of the 11th seeds?
1) How dominant will Karl-Anthony Towns be?
Towns is doing ridiculous things right now. In his last three games he has put up 42, 37, and 34 points while grabbing every rebound in sight. Tonight he will be matched up against, checks notes, Bobby Portis and Thomas Bryant. Dwight Howard is hurt and will be out tonight. Ian Mahinmi is out of the Wizards rotation and last game they started Bobby Portis at center. The only thing stopping Towns tonight will be his own ability to stay out of foul trouble.
2) How small will the Wolves play?
With the Wizards running super small, it will be interesting to see how Ryan Saunders handles the matchup. Last game against the Hawks, the Wolves brought out Wiggins at the four against super-small Hawks lineups. Seems fair to expect we will see a bit of that tonight with Taj Gibson playing backup center.
3) Who on the Wizards is going to score a bunch of points?
My money is on Tomas Satoransky scoring 20 plus points and hitting at least five three-pointers.
4) Who will win the battle of playing most like Jeff Green? Jeff Green or Andrew Wiggins?
I don’t really want to guess on that one.
Projected Starting Lineups
Luol Deng is questionable and Covington is not back yet.
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