Austin Rivers: Wizards, Pacers Are 'Slept-On,' Can Compete with Celtics, 76ers

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 10, 2018

Washington Wizards guard Austin Rivers (1) poses for a photograph during an NBA basketball media day, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

The Washington Wizards haven't advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 1978-79, but guard Austin Rivers believes they're overlooked as an Eastern Conference threat.

Rivers told James Herbert of CBSSports.com: 

"I think we're heavily slept-on. Team's been to the playoffs, what, the last five, four or five years? Then going into this year, you add me, Dwight Howard, Jeff Green and nobody seems to talk about us. So I just think we're heavily slept-on, but that's fine. At the end of the day, nothing really matters until the season starts and we set that tone for ourselves. I get the hype of a couple of the other teams, but I think we have a chance to compete with the best of the East."

Washington has been to the playoffs in each of the last two years. The team traded for Rivers and signed Howard and Green this offseason.

Rivers also had praise for another Eastern Conference contender, suggesting Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers are a threat to the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers after the Pacers nearly eliminated LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers last postseason.

"Yeah, I would say Indiana's the other team that gets slept-on, too," he said. "You look at Indiana, they took Cleveland to seven games and then damn near, arguably could have beaten them."

The Celtics and 76ers faced off in the second round of last season's playoffs and are primed to take over the Eastern Conference after James left for the Los Angeles Lakers. James has been to the last eight NBA Finals as a member of the Cavaliers and Miami Heat, so his departure cleared the path for other contenders.

Rivers acknowledged Boston and Philadelphia are talented, though he dismissed the notion they will run through the East.

"Everybody's so f--king gassed up on the Celtics and the Sixers. And rightfully so: They're both talented teams. But Indiana is just as good as both those teams. And I think we're in the same situation."

Washington lost in the first round to the Toronto Raptors, which added Kawhi Leonard this offseason, but there is plenty to like about Rivers' new team. The core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. provides wing and backcourt scoring, and the additions of Rivers, Green and Howard create depth.

Rivers had career-best totals last season as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers with 15.1 points, 4.0 assists and 2.4 rebounds a night behind 37.8 percent shooting from three-point range.

Green brings NBA Finals experience after he played for Cleveland last season, and Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and eight-time All-Star who still provides formidable interior defense and rebounding even though he is past his prime. Opponents shot 4.6 percent worse inside six feet than their normal averages last season when he defended them, per NBA.com.

Surpassing the Celtics, who feature Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, among others, and the 76ers, who have Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, and the Raptors, who boast Leonard and Kyle Lowry, will be no easy task, but Rivers believes Washington is up for the challenge.