For Wizards, .500 is only half of the story

Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post - Trevor Ariza goes to the basket in a victory over the Portland Trail Blazers that pushed the Wizards’ record above .500 for the first time since October 2009.

The most important number for the Washington Wizards this season has been .500.

If a team is over .500 — meaning it has won more than 50 percent of its games — it has a winning record. Under .500, it has a losing record.

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On Monday, the Wizards beat a very good Portland Trail Blazers team, 100-90. That pushed the Wizards’ record above the .500 mark for the first time since October 2009. (Check today’s Sports section for the result of the team’s Wednesday night game against the San Antonio Spurs to see whether the Wiz have stayed above .500.)

All the fuss about whether the Wizards can get above .500 and stay there, however, misses the biggest story so far of their 2013-14 season: They are much better than in recent years. Here are some reasons:

John Wall has developed into one of the National Basketball Association’s most exciting point guards, scoring almost 20 points a game and handing out more than eight assists. Wall’s stellar play has been rewarded with his first trip to the NBA All-Star Game.

Second-year guard Bradley Beal is also improved. Beal is scoring almost 17 points a game and shooting better than 41 percent from three-point range. Wall (age 23) and Beal (20) give the Wizards perhaps the best young back court in basketball.

The Wizards have also enjoyed steady front-court play from starters Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Nene. Gortat was a crucial pickup before the season started. The 6-foot-11-inch center from Poland has given the Wizards more rebounding and inside defense than in past years.

And everyone passes the ball. Unlike recent Wizards teams that had too many ball hogs, Washington ranks eighth out of 30 NBA teams for most assists per game.

Not everything is perfect. Otto Porter is suffering through a nightmare of a rookie season. He was the Wizards’ top pick in the 2013 NBA draft but was injured for the early part of the season. Now Porter is stuck on the end of the Wizards’ bench. It looks as if this will be a wasted year for the 6-foot-8-inch forward from Georgetown.

With Porter struggling, the Wizards’ bench is thin. Head Coach Randy Wittman plays only eight of the team’s 12 players in most games.

A weak bench means the Wizards could be in big trouble if an important player, such as Nene, Wall or Beal, gets hurt.

But if the Wizards can stay healthy, they have a better than .500 chance to have a winning record for the season and make the playoffs.

Bowen writes the sports opinion column for KidsPost. He is the author of 19 sports books for kids. His latest basketball book is “Real Hoops.”

 
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