The Washington Wizards have been waiting for over six years to return to the National Basketball Association (NBA) play-offs. That opportunity looked promising back in December before it fully blossomed into an impressive opening week for the Wizards in postseason play.

A matchup with the higher seeded Chicago Bulls prodded a lot of critics to pick the Bulls as favorites in their best-of-seven series but the Wizards had other plans. With a fully healthy roster, Washington was ready to make noise against the depleted Bulls and they did. The AFRO recaps the opening week of the playoffs for the Washington Wizards.

April 20: Wizards Open Series with Comeback Road Win, 102-93
A Sunday night road game against the Bulls saw Washington trailing by as much as 13 points in the third quarter before a furious rally led by Nene (24 points, eight rebounds) catapulted Washington back into a lead in Game One before some timely stops late in the fourth quarter gave the Wizards an opening series road win 102-93.

It wasn’t just Nene contributing, however. Six players scored in double figures, including Andre Miller, who scored 10 points to lead Washington’s reserves. Chicago was supposed to have the advantage inside with Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah manning the middle but Nene powered his way past the Bulls’ big man while Marcin Gortat added 15 points and 13 rebounds. Neither John Wall nor Bradley Beal was able to show much in their playoff debut, combining to shoot just 7-of-25 but Washington’s front court was the star of the night.

April 23: Wizards Repeat Road Comeback Script, 101-99, for 2-0 Series Lead
Game Two against Chicago promised to be a tougher outing after Washington snuck in a win in the opening game. The contest lived up to the billing and Washington posted a big lead before using a big comeback to top Chicago 101-99. The Wizards led by as many as 17 points early in the first half before Chicago clawed back to take the lead late in the third quarter. The Bulls pushed the lead to 10 points in the final period but Beal came alive with 11 points in the quarter to help tie the game in regulation before finishing with 26 points and seven rebounds. Chicago guard D.J. Augustine scored a team-high 25 points but couldn’t muster much offense with Wizards forward Trevor Ariza checking him late in the game. The 6-foot-8 Ariza swarmed the smaller Augustine as Chicago ran out of offense late in the game. Nene didn’t dominate the way he did in Game One but he did add a solid performance with 17 points, seven rebounds, one block and one steal. He was once again the catalyst of Washington’s offense and helped the unit stay consistent despite a pesky Bulls defense.

April 25: Bulls Spoil Wizards’ First Home Play-Off Game, 100-97, to Make Series 2-1
A Friday night home game against Chicago had all the makings of a fun night for the Wizards. A 2-0 series lead coupled with Washington’s first home playoff game since the 2007 season had the Verizon Center rocking before the 8 p.m. opening tip. But a Nene ejection, a slew of missed free throws and a career night from Chicago’s Michael Dunleavy doomed the Wizards as they fell 100-97. Dunleavy scored 35 points and connected on 8-of-10 from long range as Washington fumbled several late opportunities to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. Beal scored a team-high 25 points and nearly singlehandedly overcame some late gaffes by Wall and Ariza and Nene’s ejection but the Bulls held firm. Nene got tangled up with Chicago’s Jimmy Butler at the top of the fourth quarter as the two got into a head-to-head stare down before Nene collapsed his hands around Butler’s neck. The incident was enough to remove Nene from the game and issue him a Game Four suspension in a game that Washington cannot afford to lose if they want to maintain the momentum they built over the opening two games.

Washington leads the series 2-1 but outcome may have possibly been altered by Nene’s Game Three ejection. Nene’s been the early spark that Washington has needed to take the lead over Chicago but that lead could be in jeopardy as Chicago will have a chance to tie the series with Nene out on April 27. Fortunately, the Wizards big man will only be suspended one game with at least another two games remaining in the series.

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO