NBA: Wizards Could Be Eastern Conference Darkhorse

Mike OwensCorrespondent IApril 6, 2008

It seems like a pretty consistent trend in every sport that a team comes out of nowhere to stun the world. 

This year the New York Giants did it in football, while Davidson surprised us all by making the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tourney.  Even last year saw the Golden State Warriors shock the basketball world by knocking out the top seeded Mavericks in the most thrilling upset in recent NBA memory.

This season's NBA playoffs will be no different. 

With all the talk about the East revolving around the Celtics and the Pistons, one team is finally getting healthy while closing in on home court advantage at the same time. That team is the Washington Wizards.

Now, quite frankly, this team deserves a whole lot of credit.  Despite missing All-Star Gilbert Arenas for 67 games this year and fellow All-Star Caron Butler for 19, the Wizards never fell off.

In fact, they did the opposite.  They kept winning, despite injuries to two very key players.

Now things are finally beginning to turn around for the Wizards.  They are getting healthy, and that could really shake things up in the East. 

While everyone is going to focus on the return of Gilbert Arenas as the key to this team making a deep playoff run, they could very well overlook a huge factor. 

I am not going to deny that Arenas will make a difference.  His presence alone will change the way teams play the Wizards.  Teams will have to give him his due attention. Otherwise, he will torch them. 

However, they have to make sure not to sag off Butler or Antawn Jamison either, because each of them has the capability to have a big night as well.

The biggest difference maker for this team, though, will not be any of its stars.  No, the biggest difference here will be the role players. 

While some critics and analysts may say that the Arenas injury hurt this team, I have to disagree.  The injury, if anything, was a blessing in disguise. 

It gave players opportunities that they might not have gotten had this team been healthy all year. 

If you sit and look at it, can you honestly say to yourself that Roger Mason, Jr. or Deshawn Stevenson would have gotten the same opportunities if Arenas had been healthy all year and if Butler didn't get hurt on a few occasions? 

Would Andray Blatche or Brendan Haywood have a career year if everyone were healthy? 

The one thing that the injuries did for this team? They gave everyone else confidence.  It gave players that might not get that many opportunities more playing time, and in turn, they produced. 

The injuries have also helped head coach Eddie Jordan.  He now knows that come crunch time, he can depend on Mason, Jr. or Stevenson or Nick Young to come in and make plays.

He does not have to worry as much if Butler or Arenas get in early foul trouble because he knows that the guys he has on his bench can come and make plays and keep momentum rolling.

And that is why these Wizards will be a team that no one will want to face come playoff time.  Not only are they finally getting healthy, but they are a team playing with confidence. 

They have persevered through injuries to their two best players, while staying afloat in the playoff race. And now it is paying off.