CHICAGO – The Wizards had to temper their anxiety prior to their first playoff game in six years on Sunday. Entering Game 2 of a first-round series against the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday, they’ll have to fight an urge to feel too comfortable.
“We’re not overconfident, or anything like that,” guard John Wall said Tuesday afternoon. “We still respect the Bulls. We’re still the underdogs in this situation. We just came out with a tough win in Game 1 and we know we’ve got to play even harder to try to play Game 2. We’re focused, we’re locked in and we’re prepared to get ready for Game 2 tonight.”
The Wizards' 102-93 victory over the Bulls at United Center on Sunday marked the first time the franchise had won the opening game of a playoff series since 1986. It had been even longer – since 1979 – since it won the opening game of a seven-game playoff series.
And not since 1975 have has the team – rechristened that season as the Washington Bullets – won the first two games of a playoff series that was scheduled to last at least three games.
“One game,” said Wizards coach Randy Wittman. “That’s all it is. You know, we’ve got to just treat this as another game, in terms of like it’s Game 1 again. The intensity level is obviously going to pick up. As the series moves on, it always does. We have to have that understanding, and understand that it’s going to be a dogfight. You’ve got to stay in the fight for 48 minutes, and when we do that, we always give ourselves an opportunity.”
By capturing a victory in the first meeting, the Wizards effectively neutralized the Bulls‘ home-court advantage. The six remaining games will be spread evenly between United Center and Verizon Center, where Game 3 will be played on Friday.
“It’s big,” Wall said. “I mean, we definitely want to go back home going up 2-0 if we get the opportunity to. The main thing is trying to come here on the road and get a game, and that’s tough. We did it in Game 1, and we’re confident and we believe in ourselves.
“But like I said, we’re still the underdogs. We still know they’re a capable team that can beat anybody with their defense, and we know they’re going to come out with a stellar defensive game plan tonight and try to come back and get a win. We’ve just got to stick to what we did and make the right plays and keep our turnovers down.”
The 102 points allowed by Chicago in Game 1 marked only the 17th time all season their opponents have reached triple digits in scoring. The best defensive team in the league, the Bulls allowed just 91.8 points per game during the regular season and held their opponents to 43.0 percent shooting from the field.
Until Sunday, the Bulls had not been defeated in consecutive games since following up a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans with a loss to the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 3. The Wizards, meanwhile, have won their last five games, including the playoff opener.
That could give Washington the impression that success will come easy, but Marcin Gortat, one of eight Wizards players with postseason experience, doesn’t believe the Wizards will enter Tuesday’s game feeling complacent.
“I’m really hoping that we already went through that, and each one of us knows what we’re fighting for,” Gortat said. “We’re going to stay hungry.”
So will the Bulls, who are trying to avoid heading east for Friday’s game with two losses against them.
“You’ve got to come with the same mindset you had in Game 1, but just come out and play even harder,” Wall said. “That’s going to be the biggest thing: I think it’s playing even harder than what you played in Game 1. But we know how those guys are feeling right now and the intensity that they’re going to come and play with, and we’ve just got to come out more intense than them and play harder than them and just play the right way.”