The Wizards, who won 43 games during the regular season—that’s three fewer than the Denver Nuggets, who failed to make the playoffs in the much tougher Western Conference—and were the Eastern Conference’s 8th seed, were eliminated on their home floor by the Toronto Raptors Friday night.
That’s a definitive result—a series can feel like a toss-up when it’s 2-2, and still close to even when it’s 3-2, but when it wraps up in six, it’s time for the loser to do some finger counting and reconcile themselves to the fact that their opponent won twice as many games in the series as they themselves did. You would think this quick math would be enough, even without the more complex math of how it happened, to convince the losing team that they were not, in fact, the better team. But no:
You’ll have to turn the volume up to a million billion decibels to make it out, but that is Wizards forward Markieff Morris mumbling that his main takeaway from this playoff series is that the Wizards—who, again, lost four times and won only twice—were “the better team” in the series, and that “sometimes the better team don’t win.”
Listen. The Wizards had a dreadful bench this season. This has been an ongoing problem for the Wizards, and a fucked-up and ridiculous roster will likely always be a problem in Washington for as long as Ernie Grunfeld is leading the basketball operation. The Wizards won 49 games last campaign because they were incredibly lucky with health—their starting lineup played nearly 500 more minutes together than any other lineup in basketball last regular season—and this season they won just 43 games because they were not. This wasn’t karma, it was regression, even if John Wall missing 41 games felt like an unfortunate over-correction. When you have normal injury problems over the course of a season, it helps to have a useful bench. When you have worse-than-normal injury problems, the need is magnified. Good teams generally have more than three good players. Hey, while we’re here, the Wizards guard who played the most minutes behind John Wall and Bradley Beal against the Raptors was Ty Lawson, who spent this season in China and played exactly zero regular season minutes as a Wizard.
But even if you assume that Markieff Morris is selectively considering the Wizards “team” to be just its core players, or just its starting lineup, or just its ceiling, this is obviously ridiculous: Washington’s starting lineup went minus-13 in the series, and produced a putrid 117.3 defensive rating. The Wizards starters were solidly thumped by a vastly deeper and better team, and of course they lacked the depth to counter that trend. I do not expect Markieff Morris to have accurate cumulative or per-hundred-possessions numbers in his head when he sulks into a media scrum in the post-game losing locker room, but damn, man, the Wizards were incredibly not the better team in this series.
Raptors coach Dwane Casey generously mentioned the absence of Jodie Meeks in the series, and the injury to Otto Porter that kept him out of Game 6, as factors in Washington’s performance, but I would like to offer, by way of contrast, the injury that kept Fred VanVleet out of all but a few minutes of playoff action prior to Game 6. The Raptors won three of five games virtually without VanVleet, despite him being one of their four or five most important players. That is not to say they didn’t miss him, because they did, badly—for the first time all season their bench was playing like, well, a bench, and not like a damn steamroller. In fact, it is to say that Washington’s relative success through five games could be attributed hugely to VanVleet’s absence—when he finally returned, with the Raptors down 10 at the start of the second quarter of Game 6, the Raptors immediately went on a 12-4 run, highlighted by his shifty playmaking:
The blustery, constantly chirping Wizards are so badly in need of the humbling and brutal self-assessment that normally comes from getting your collective dick kicked off in a first round playoff series, but whatever it is that makes them so in need of that reckoning appears to be exactly what keeps them from receiving the wake-up call. At any rate, we should all be thankful to the Raptors for getting them the hell out of our faces. Good riddance.