The Washington Wizards return to Verizon Center Friday night for the first NBA playoff action seen on F Street since 2008. They have a surprisingly commanding 2-0 lead over the Chicago Bulls and are turning heads throughout pro hoops — a pretty amazing turn of events for a team that won 29 games a year ago.
My family moved to Greater Washington in 1978 and my earliest D.C. pro sports memory is of the Bullets beating Seattle in the NBA Finals. Bullets Fever! The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings! What great memories.
With the Wizards the talk of basketball I decided to extend my stroll down memory lane and rank the top 10 Bullets and Wizards playoff games played in Landover and D.C (you’ll recall the team played for years in Prince George’s County at the Capital Centre/US Airways Arena). This is of course purely subjective, so let me know what I missed, or what you’d re-rank. We’ll see if a home game from 2014 cracks this list.
And head on over to Bullets Forever for a comprehensive and fun rundown from the fine folks at SB Nation.
OK, time for tipoff:
10. 1975: In Game 6 of the conference finals, the Bullets beat the Boston Celtics 98-92 to advance to the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Since I’m first and foremost a Celtics fan, the less said about this game the better. (The Bullets would go on to be swept by Rick Barry and the Warriors.)
9. 2008: In Game 3, the Wizards blow out Cleveland 108-72. At one point, Wizards fans serenade LeBron James with chants of “Overrated!” as he shoots a free throw. Also, Colin Powell attends the game in a white T-shirt pulled over his dress shirt, part of a “White Out” crowd stunt.
8. 1988: The Bullets notch two home wins in the first round against the Detroit Pistons to force a Game 5, which they lose by 21. Detroit would advance to the Finals and bow to the Magic Johnson-led Los Angeles Lakers, 4 games to 3, for L.A.’s second title in a row. As a Boston Celtics fan, the less said about this the better.
7. 2006: Gilbert Arenas changes his his jersey, shorts, shoes and tights in the locker room during halftime of Game 4 and leads the Wizards from behind to beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, 105-96.
6. 1978: Washington takes Game 6 over the Philadelphia 76ers, 101-99, to advance to the NBA Finals against the Seattle Supersonics.
5. 1979: Up 3-1 in the conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks, Washington gets pushed to a Game 7 and wins 100-94 to move on the conference finals against George “The Iceman” Gervin(not to mention Billy “The Whopper” Paultz) and the San Antonio Spurs.
4. 2005: Now playing at the Verizon Center, the Wizards win their first playoff game since 1988, taking game 3 of the first round series against the Chicago Bulls.
3. 1997: The Bullets lose Game 3 96-95 and are swept — by a total of 18 points — by the Chicago Bulls, the eventual champ. G.O.A.T. Michael Jordan anoints Washington — led by Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Rod Strickland and Gheorghe Muresan — a team to be reckoned with after the series.
2. 1979: The Bullets beat San Antonio and The Iceman 107-105 in Game 7 to advance to the NBA Finals for the second straight season. Bob Dandridge hits the series-winning shot with 8 seconds remaining, and Washington becomes the third team to win a series after trailing 3-1.
1. 1978: The Bullets defeat the Seattle Supersonics 117-82 in Game 6 at the Capital Centre and go on to take Game 7 in Seattle (105-99) and claim the NBA Championship. In Game 6, Coach Dick Motta moves Dandridge to guard and the Bullets score 70 points in the second half. This year’s Bulls struggle to score that in an entire game.
Fun fact: That Game 7 in Seattle marked the last time a road team defeated the home team in the last game of the Finals. This song could be heard for weeks afterward (HT: Nils Lofgren):