I wanted to start off by thanking everyone for the support and the feedback on my first blog entry. It seemed like everybody really loved it.
One reaction I found was that people were surprised that I was interested in writing, and it’s definitely something where I’m kind of stepping outside of my shell a little bit. I wanted to give a little insight into my life, to give people a chance to get to know me better, get to know my personality and who I am. So to be able to do that and have the feedback, to me, is great.
It’s also great to have that support, especially from the fans. A lot of times, fans don’t really get a chance to know the behind the scenes aspects of how an NBA player is, or get to know the life of a player. I want to bring that, and also help our fans get to know the team atmosphere, how our team thinks, and how we feel we’re playing in more than just little soundbites. You get the inside scoop for a little bit. I got a lot of great feedback off of the blog. It kind of excites me, and pushes me to want to let people know more about how the season is going.
TIME TO LOCK IN
Right now, as we approach the final few games, it’s kind of a mixed emotion. We’re winning games for the most part, but our play hasn’t always been great. We’ve been having some slippage on the defensive end.
We’re fortunate to have great scorers on our team who can put the ball in the basket. But we still haven’t gotten back into the groove we were in before the All-Star break. We need to have that intensity and that focus that we had before the break, and bring that same defensive intensity. I think we’re lacking that a little bit. It’s getting better, but we need to be more consistent with it.
In some ways, having so much room for improvement, I see it as almost a positive. We still have a lot of basketball left, and I know that we can play a lot better. It’s just a matter of getting our groove back. Once we do that, we’re going to be making a tough run. But it’s going to be imperative that we keep doing what we’ve been doing, continue to put the work in, and our game will speak for itself.
I think it’s just a matter of locking in. We’ve just got to realize that the playoffs are right around the corner. We’re playing for something bigger than some of the teams that we are facing, and other teams we’re playing are in the same boat that we’re in, fighting for positioning and trying to send a message. I’ve said it before, but we are a targeted team, and moving forward, everybody is shooting for the same goal. So these games are important.
We’ve got to be ready to go, mentally prepared, and accept the challenge each and every night. We’ve got to step our level of play up.
I’d like to see us use these last couple of games to really fine tune our team, correct some of the mistakes that we’ve been making, and really get better and more cohesive right before the playoffs. We want to go in with a full head of steam, with all our soldiers ready to go, and everybody on the same page. Everything we’ve been working for is right around the corner, and we have a great opportunity in front of us. We need to be ready to take advantage of it.
CAPTURING THE FLAG
It’s a pretty big deal to bring the Southeast Division title home to D.C.
A lot of franchises almost take for granted winning the division. It’s all about playoff seeding and all of that. But when your franchise hasn’t won a division title since 1979, it’s special.
That’s a long time, and the city has really been missing great basketball for quite a while. This is definitely the most successful year since I’ve been here—and for the franchise—in a long, long time. We have an opportunity to get 50+ wins this year. To be the division winners and have that home court advantage that comes with it, that’s huge, too. We haven’t had that in so long. The fans deserve it. We deserve it as a team, and we definitely owe it to them.
We’re so appreciative of our fans and the support they’ve given us because they’ve been patient. They’ve stuck by our side through the good and bad, through our rocky start and then through our big winning stretch, and even now, they’re still hanging on tight with us. That’s the main reason why we play so well at home, having that energy and having that sixth man behind us. That’s important to us. We definitely owe it to them each and every night to play our butts off. Having a basketball franchise with that level of success is big for the city. It’s been a long time coming, and now, they have one.
As far as the seeding goes for the playoffs, it’s really hard to predict where we might end up because everything is so jumbled up right now. On any given night, several of the seeds are changing. It’s kind of a toss-up and we don’t know what’s going to happen, from 1 through 8 really. So for us, it’s just a matter of going out and winning games. That’s all we’re concerned about. That’s all we can control. We’re not out there trying to lose. We’re trying to put ourselves in a great position to have a successful playoff run. If we slide into the two seed, or get the one seed, fall into the three spot, or whatever else it may be, we’re going to be ready and prepared for whoever we face.
One thing we do know is that the East is going to be highly competitive. Boston is playing tremendously. Cleveland is a little shaky right now, but you kind of expect them to blossom when they get into the playoffs. Then you have Toronto, Miami and Milwaukee all playing really well right now. So it’s all up in the air.
We picked up a huge win recently going into Cleveland and beating the Cavaliers, and we’re proud of that one. We proved that we can win in their building and everything that comes with it, under their bright lights, and with their fans.
Every game counts, but it’s especially important when you may have an opportunity to face that team again in the playoffs. That’s a message-sender. We’ve proven that we can win there, so that definitely gives us confidence moving forward, regardless of what may happen.
A STRONG CAST
I can’t say enough about the way we’ve been playing as a team this year with everyone pitching in and doing the things they’re capable of for us to be successful.
John has been great all season. He’s an MVP candidate for sure because of his value to the team and what he brings. He’s second in the league in assists, and averaging a double-double. It’s difficult to see how impressive that is when there’s a guy this season averaging a triple-double. But with John, you have a guy who wins games, and brings a ton of leadership value to this team.
That’s where I’ve seen him take the biggest step forward this year. He has this passion about him. He goes out each and every night wanting to win. He doesn’t care what it takes, whether it’s him scoring 30 points, or getting 30 assists. He’s going to go out and play with that heart and passion each and every night.
He accepts the challenge, and he goes out there with that chip on his shoulder, trying to prove to everybody that we’re the team to beat, and that he is the best point guard in the league. We go out there with the same mentality, and we’ve been feeding off that confidence as well. That’s something that goes beyond statistics. So I definitely think he should be considered for MVP, but you definitely have to respect the other guys and the great years they’re having as well.
Still, our team is more than just one guy, obviously. Everybody plays a role. Personally, I’m okay with where my game is at, but I’m not content or satisfied. I know I can be better. I’ve had some good shooting nights and some bad shooting nights recently, and I need to be more consistent, more locked in, and get ready to go, because my game isn’t perfect. I think defensively I’ve been improving, but that can also get even better as well. Nothing to me is ever going be perfect. I always want to be better.
One guy who doesn’t get enough credit and has really improved this year is Kelly Oubre. He’s been terrific, playing with a lot of energy, and he’s constantly growing and maturing. He’s still young, but his game has come a long way. He’s earned his minutes and time, and he’s gaining respect in the league as well.
He’s been really focused and active on both ends of the floor. He’s showing now that he can be a knockdown shooter. He’s shown that he can get to the basket and finish. And defensively, he’s probably the best defender on our team. He accepts every challenge, whether it’s a one guard, two guard, on down to five. He’s going to step up and be physical, and he’s going to embrace that challenge. And in my eye, he does a pretty good job of locking people up.
He brings that spark and the energy on our team that I think we need, especially off the bench. That’s been key for us because sometimes, we don’t get off to a great start. To be able to have a guy like Kelly be able to come in and spark us a little bit, it’s big. We always need that energy, and a guy who is not afraid to get in your face. We have that in him. That’s what we love about him.
We’re going to need that come playoff time. And we have a lot of guys who we know will step up at that time as well. Otto Porter is definitely going to be a big X-factor for us, because he’s able to play the three, and the four as well. He and I can both stretch the floor. That will create a lot of mismatch opportunities for us.
Otto has really impressed me this year with his approach to the game compared to last year. He has a lot more confidence in himself now. He’s more aggressive offensively. He’s taking shots from spots that he loves, and shots that he works on every day, and that he knows that he can knock down. And he knocks them down. Defensively, he has a tough assignment every night. We give him a challenge and he embraces it. One night he has LeBron. Then he has Jimmy Butler, and then PG. He has all the big-time scorers in the East. He has to face them on the defensive end and he’s done a terrific job of stepping up, using his length, and guarding those guys while contributing on offense as well.
Markieff Morris is another one of those guys that’s going to be able to make that huge difference for us in the playoffs. He’ll be able to score for us, guard multiple positions and get those big stops. He’s versatile. He’s a guy who we can throw the ball into the post to, and he can go get a bucket, or he can create a play for somebody else. He’s a great passer out of the post.
He’s also able to guard multiple positions. We’re able to switch one through four with him and create some mismatches, and give a team different looks. He can guard the post, and he can get down in his stance and guard point guards and the perimeter. And we can let him do that without having to harm the offense too much. So we’re able to slow teams down by doing that. On offense, obviously he’s able to get his inside, but he’s also been shooting the three better than he ever has. So his game has improved, and he’s definitely a key for us.
We’ve also got our two big men, Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi, and we love those two. They work their tails off on both ends of the floor. Marc sets some of the best screens in the league, and then he’s able to roll and finish at the basket. He runs his butt off getting to the rim, and that creates space and opportunities for us. And he has great hands. He’s able to catch and finish.
Ian has been playing terrific. He’s got his feel back returning from that injury, and a better flow with the team now. As a result, he’s taking off. His game is improving. We’re able to throw him the ball down on the block as well. He’s a great playmaker, too. Then on the defensive end, both those guys rebound with the best of them and they’re able to contest shots. Ian does a great job of contesting shots at the rim.
So I think we’ve got the total package. We’ve got everything that I think we need.
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
I’m really proud of the maturity we’ve shown this year. And when I say that, I mean in terms of facing adversity during the game. In the past, I think there would be times where, if a team would go up 20, we would kind of shut down. Or if we had a big lead and then a team would make a run, again, we would kind of shut down. This year has been a great year of growth. We’ve shown that we can sustain leads. We’ve shown that we can come back. And we’ve shown that we can handle another team’s run, and answer with one of our own.
Just being able to handle adversity, play through off shooting nights as a team, and get a win defensively, that’s progress. That’s where we’ve grown this year. Our ability to overcome adversity is probably the best it’s been since I’ve been here.
That’s definitely something that’s gained through experience, but I think it’s also a testament to our camaraderie. We hold each other accountable on the floor, 1 through 15. Regardless if it’s me, John, Otto, Keef, Gortat on down the line through our bench, we hold each other accountable. We’re not afraid to tell somebody when they make a mistake, and vice versa. We accept it as a man, and we’re able to move forward from that. That’s a definitely big sign of growth and maturity for us, and that’s something that helped us get to where we are now.
Our confidence level is high. I think that’s something that we’ll never lose. We’ve always believed that we can go out and win a game, regardless of how it may be going, if we’re up or down. But we also know that we can play better. I think that’s the best thing about us.
We have the heat. We have the passion, and we play as a team. I think we have all the pieces. We have a solid foundation inside. We have great guard play. We have great, athletic wings. We have the tools. Now, it’s just a matter of us just being able to go out there, have fun, and play the way that we know we’re capable playing. It starts on the defensive end, controlling everything. We lock down that end first, and then just let our offense flow as it may. We’re near the top of the league in points per game. We score 100-plus every night. That’s not a problem for us. Our biggest challenge is getting those stops defensively.
When we do that, we’re a scary team.
I’m excited to see what we can do down the stretch here and, of course, in the playoffs. And our fans, I’ll say it again: We’re going to need you. You’ve been awesome all year for us, and especially these last couple of weeks. We have home court, and we’re going to need your energy. We feed off of it, and it motivates us to play even harder and better.
And that’s what we’re going to do.