March 6, 2017
Sports Insider Weekly
Photos: Keith Allison
After a bumpy start to the second half of the season, the Washington Wizards are back on track.
They followed back-to-back losses with two consecutive victories, including their most impressive of the year – a four-point win over the Golden State Warriors. They then split a two-game series with the Raptors before beating the Orlando Magic (23-40) by the smallest of margins Sunday night.
Washington started out slow, falling behind by 16 points at halftime–something coach Scott Brooks highlighted during his halftime talk.
“Coach basically chewed us out,” guard Bradley Beal said. “He basically asked us what team are we going to be? Are we going to be a team that doesn’t respond well after the break and kind of tanks and falls, or are we going to do something about it and get our mojo back?”
The pep talk seemed to work, with Washington’s offensive heating up in the second half, including an explosive fourth quarter. The biggest surprise was the help they received off the bench. Bojan Bogdanovic, newly acquired from the Brooklyn Nets, had an impressive outing for Washington, his second of the week.
After scoring 27 points in last Wednesday’s 105-96 victory over the Raptors, he repeated that feat on Sunday’s victory over the Magic. Bogdanovic scored 15 of his 27 points and made five of his career-high eight 3-pointers during the fourth quarter to close the gap and defeat the Magic 115-114 on Sunday.
“I felt today that I can not miss,” Bogdanovic said after the win, which was just his sixth game with the team. “I hope that every game I will have that feeling.”
Beal led Washington with 32 points, while John Wall added 19 points and 10 assists. The addition of a strong bench player like Bogdanovic proves that the Wizards are a dynamic team who rely on more than just a few players to win games.
The Wizards continue to lead their division and are ranked third in the Eastern Conference. They next face Phoenix in the first of a five-game, five-city road trip.
Despite off-season uncertainty in which the Washington Redskins could see major changes, they answered one question by signing coach Jay Gruden to a two-year contract extension.
Gruden, who took the helm in 2014 after the exit of Mike Shanahan, was heading into the fourth year of a five-year contract. The Redskins are 21-26-1 in three seasons under the 50-year old coach, who previously served as the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator from 2011-2013.
Washington missed the playoffs by one game last season, one year after winning the NFC East title. But their 2015 playoff stint was short-lived — they fell to the Packers in the wild-card game at home.
Interestingly, Gruden, the eighth head coach in Dan Snyder’s 18-year ownership, is the first to have his contract extended by the controversial owner. Snyder’s investment in Gruden shows that he truly believes he will be a leader that takes his team back to the playoffs, and possibly, Super Bowl.
Gruden is joined by two new coordinators–former quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh promoted to run the offense and outside linebackers coach Greg Manusky promoted to handle the defense.
While the coaching staff seems to be confirmed, many other questions remain unanswered for Washington. They could lose starting receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to free agency, which would leave a huge offensive hole to fill. Last week they surprisingly placed a franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins for the second consecutive year.
Though much is still unknown about the makeup of next year’s team, for now, fans can be sure of who will be calling the shots.