The Wizards have very high expectations of this upcoming season. Out to prove that they are not a 19-win team, they look to regain the form they had in the middle of this decade when they won a playoff series against Chicago and consistently made the playoffs under former head coach Eddie Jordan.
The new look Wizards, who really are the same group of players as those previously mentioned teams, face tough opponents early in their schedule and late in the season. Here are the top 10 games on the schedule this season.
Or, at least the top 10 as best we can tell in August.
10. December 14 @ LA Clippers
While the Clippers would normally never be higher than 75 on a list like this, Blake Griffin rockets them up to number 10. The Wizards had the second best chance at the first overall pick in the lottery this past year, but their luck bounced them out of a chance at Griffin. On the bright side, it meant that they could make that move with Minnesota. This is a game that will let the Wizards see if fate guided them to a higher calling, or slapped them in the face yet again.
9. November 14 vs Detroit
There are several games on this list where story lines run deeper than matchups. In this case, it's easy to think that this game is just about Flip Saunders taking revenge on his former club, which he took to the Eastern Conference Finals three seasons in a row.
However, the Pistons made moves this offseason that could make this game very entertaining. Getting Ben Gordon via free agency adds a scoring threat that every team in the East will fear. The Wizards are a team built to score, making this game a potential barn burner.
Gilbert Arenas also made his 2009 "comeback" last season in a game against the Pistons, and missed a shot that would have won the game after intentionally missing a free throw.
8. December 26 @ Minnesota
Here's a topic that's flown under every imaginable radar: who will be the head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves? A few years ago, your answer would have been Flip Saunders. Today, it's "I don't know."
This is also the team that Washington made it's big offseason move with. In receiving guard Randy Foye and swingman (and former Sixth-Man and Rookie of the Year award winner) Mike Miller, the Wizards sent the fifth pick in the draft, Darius Songaila, Oleksiy Pecherov, and Etan Thomas (who was then shipped off to Oklahoma City).
Minnesota used that pick on Spanish phenom Ricky Rubio, even though Rubio had said he had no interest in playing for them. As of now, he has not been signed, nor has he even left his Spanish team yet, although that appears inevitable. A win here justifies the Wizards' move.
7. December 22 vs Philadelphia
Fan favorite Eddie Jordan comes back to DC with his new squad to show them what he can do with a healthy roster. While most everyone would agree that the Wizards upgraded their head coaching situation, Jordan still was a scapegoat for a 1-10 start fueled by an injured Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood. This 76ers team he's bringing in nearly knocked the Magic out of the playoffs in the first round, so this should be a good game.
6. April 9 @ Boston
Finally, a game that could actually mean something in the long run, forget revenge or story lines: this is a battle of (potential) Eastern Conference heavyweights. Boston has kept its big three intact over the summer, and when you add an emerging Rajon Rondo to that trio, you almost have to consider it a big four.
In the 2007-2008 season when Boston won a championship, the Wizards were the only team to beat them three times. And that was without a healthy Gilbert Arenas. The Wizards hope to be fighting for playoff seeding at this point of the season, so a win against Boston could be very crucial.
5. November 4 vs Miami
The first southeastern division matchup on this list is also the Wizards first nationally televised game of the season. The Wizards are not getting a lot of attention from national media right now, and perhaps rightfully so, they did win just 19 games last season. But a win against Miami on national TV would do a lot to change that.
Not to mention the fact that Miami completed a similar comeback to relevance last season, going from the lottery to a playoff berth. The Wizards would love to do their best imitation of that result.
As if there weren't enough to this game, the Wizards won just one game against division opponents last season, and were in danger to become the first team to go 0-fer in the modern era. Last season, that win came in late March. A win early in the season would be nice.
4. January 26 vs LA Lakers
Remember when Gilbert Arenas dropped 60 points on the Lakers? That was in 2006, the last season he was truly healthy. He's stated that he wants to be a true point guard now, so scoring 60 against a team isn't really on his agenda anymore.
Well, so he says.
These are the NBA Champs, and to be the best you have to beat the best. Not only that, but the Wizards almost beat the Lakers last season. After their 2-point December loss to LA, in which they almost erased a 20+ point deficit, Lakers guard Derek Fisher said that his team gained the focus they kept for the rest of the season. Hopefully, the Wizards will be able to make a win over the Lakers less embarrassing for the Champs this season.
3. October 27 @ Dallas
This has the magnitude of an NFL opener for the city of DC. To a man, everyone in town believes this team will make the playoffs. For this reason, the town would really like to see the team win its opener on the road against a playoff team. And if you want to continue the NFL analogy, it is Dallas, and a win over them is always nice.
Not only that, but this team has so many intriguing questions that most fans would really like to have the answers as soon as possible. Who will be in Flip Saunders' 8-man rotation? Is Gilbert Arenas 100% healthy? Is Brendan Haywood going to continue to develop? What can Randy Foye and Mike Miller bring to this team? All these questions and more will start to be answered in this game.
2. April 7 @ Orlando
The Wizards and Magic don't battle until 2010 rolls around, but this game may determine the division, but it will more likely help determine the Wizards' playoff seeding. Expecting the Wizards to come out and take the Southeast Division from the reigning Eastern Conference champs is unrealistic and disrespectful to the Magic, but this game should have playoff implications for both squads.
There's never been a strong rivalry between these two teams, but the Magic are the reigning conference and division champs, and the Wizards believe they can be there some day. Baby steps, we're told. And the first step would be winning the division. Perhaps this is the game they clinch it.
1. November 3 @ Cleveland
Surprise, surprise. This is cliche, and ultimately in the grand scheme of things it means nothing. But to DC, it means everything. This rivalry is one-sided in two different ways. It's one-sided in that the Cavaliers always win, and that the Wizards are into it way more than Cleveland is.
But not so fast, the Wizards in their 19-win incarnation last season won two games and almost won three against the mighty Cavaliers. One with, and one without Gilbert Arenas. This game is in Cleveland, so bragging rights will be at stake. The Wizards did not beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland last season.
This will provide the Wizards with a chance to assess their greatest weakness. Can Brendan Haywood, JaVale McGee, Fabricio Oberto, and/or Andre Blatche play with Shaq? If they can hold their own, this team could go places.
There they are, the Top 10 games on the Wizards 2009-2010 schedule. By the time the season ends in April 2010, I'm sure some of these games will be less important than others not on the list. But this is what the offseason's all about: fun speculation.