It's official: The Washington Wizards have finally vanquished the ghost of Gilbert Arenas.
With a 118-92 annihilation of the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, April 2, the Wizards clinched their first Eastern Conference playoff berth since the 2007-08 season.
Following the game, several Wizards players took to Twitter to express their excitement:
Playoffs? We talking about playoffs. Not a game, playoffs. http://t.co/SuY1gdIwqN— Trevor Booker (@35_Fitz) April 3, 2014
That Wizards' last postseason campaign marked the beginning of the end for Agent Zero and the Wizards. Arenas suffered a career-altering knee injury just eight games into the schedule and was never quite the same after rushing back into action four-and-a-half months later. Even so, Washington chose to reward Arenas with a six-year, $111 million contract, from which he's still drawing paychecks.
As for the Wizards, they've long since moved on from the weaponized shame that ended Arenas' tenure in D.C. They have a new All-Star of their own in John Wall, who contributed 13 points and 10 assists in just 28 minutes of action against the C's. Bradley Beal, his backcourt partner, went for 19 points on just eight shots, further asserting himself as one of the NBA's most promising young perimeter players. Both spoke with the media about the postseason berth after the game.
Earning the franchise's first playoff series victory since 2005 will require plenty more from the frontcourt. Marcin Gortat, whom the Wizards acquired from the Phoenix Suns prior to the 2013-14 season, has been a tremendous help. But Washington, currently in sixth place in the East at 39-36, would be hard-pressed to advance past either the Chicago Bulls or the Toronto Raptors without Nene Hilario. The big Brazilian has been out of commission with a sprained left MCL since late February.
Still, returning to the playoffs is a huge accomplishment in its own right for a team that hadn't even won 30 games in a single season during its recent drought. With seven games to go and Wall and Beal in tow, the Wizards have a chance to catch the fifth-place Brooklyn Nets, who were blown out at Madison Square Garden by the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
Standings update: Wiz move to 1.5 games behind Brooklyn for fifth, stay two games ahead of Charlotte for sixth.— Bullets Forever (@BulletsForever) April 3, 2014
The timing couldn't have been much more fortuitous, either. Both general manager Ernie Grunfeld and head coach Randy Wittman are operating on the last year of their respective contracts, with a "win-or-else" edict from team owner Ted Leonsis likely dictating their futures in D.C.
Celebrate D.C.'s return to the postseason with me on Twitter!