Russ didn’t plan on going home early
The Wizards blew out the Pacers, 142–115, on Thursday night to secure what seemed impossible just six weeks ago: a playoff berth.
The Wiz were propelled over the final weeks of the season by Russell Westbrook, who averaged 23.0 points, 14.0 assists and 13.5 rebounds in the team’s final 23 games. He also inspired his teammates with an impassioned speech while the team was struggling. Head coach Scott Brooks can’t recall exactly when Westbrook made the speech but does remember the substance of it.
“He gave a very passionate, very direct talk to the group. He was like ‘I am not going through this season and not making the playoffs,’ ” Brooks told reporters after the win over the Pacers.
“Not that he predicted it, but he said I’m not going to let this happen and not make the playoffs. We’re going to step up and fight for one another. It went on and on and on. I was just like, ‘That’s a special young man there.’ ”
The Wizards were one of the worst teams in the NBA over the first three-ish months of the season. On April 5, after losing their fourth straight and 12th out of their previous 15, the Wiz fell to 17–32 and slipped to 13th in the Eastern Conference.
In any other year, a playoff berth would have been out of the question, but with the addition of the NBA’s play-in tournament, Washington needed only to climb as high as 10th to have a shot at the postseason. Rather than tank the rest of the season by trading Bradley Beal, the Wizards turned on the jets over the final 23 games of the season. They went 17–6 over that stretch, good enough not to just sneak into the play-in as the 10th seed, but received the added security of the No. 8 seed.
Westbrook has always been a divisive player, perhaps more than ever this season, but his leadership has been a boost to a young Wizards roster. They probably won’t get past the Sixers in the first round, but just qualifying for the postseason has to feel like a great accomplishment.
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