WASHINGTON — With the Washington Wizards on the cusp of advancing to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time in nine years, veteran forward Drew Gooden offered a cautionary tale at practice Monday.
Gooden was an NBA rookie in 2003 when an upstart Orlando Magic team, led by All- Star Tracy McGrady, took a 3-1 series lead against the Detroit Pistons in their first-round, best-of-seven series.
“It feels good to get in the second round,” McGrady said at the time with Orlando still a win shy of Round 2.
The problem for McGrady and the Magic was that that win never came. The Pistons rallied to win the next three games by an average of 20.3 points, eliminated Orlando in Game 7 and eventually advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“I think we had a chance to put them down and finish them and we didn’t,” Gooden recalled. “And then they started a dynasty in the Eastern Conference for the next six years.”
Beginning in 2003, the Pistons reached the Eastern Conference Finals six straight years, appeared in the NBA Finals twice and won the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA champions in 2004. The Magic wouldn’t win a playoff series again until 2008.
“That’s something that I always look back on and say we could have beaten them — being up 3-1, we just needed one game, and then, who knows? Maybe the Pistons wouldn’t have become the [dynastic] Pistons.”
The 2003 Magic remain one of just eight teams in NBA history to blow a 3-1 series lead. Eleven years later, Gooden and the Wizards lead the Chicago Bulls 3-1 in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, with Game 5 on Tuesday at the United Center in Chicago.
“It’s very tough [to close out a series], especially when you don’t have homecourt advantage,” Gooden says. “So we know that this is a must-win for us and we know the circumstances if we don’t win.”
The Wizards won Game 4 on Sunday, 98-89, despite playing without suspended forward Nene. Trevor Ariza had a playoff career-high 30 points and tied a Wizards postseason record with six 3-pointers. Washington opened Game 4 on a 14-0 run and never trailed, but the Wizards expect to see a different Bulls team with their season on the line in Game 5.
“Obviously having a 3-1 lead is great,” said Wizards forward Marcin Gortat. “But it’s not easy from the mental standpoint. They’re going to play desperate basketball and we have to play even better than we played at home.”
Wizards guard Andre Miller, who has played more than 1,200 career regular-season and playoff games but never advanced past the first round, spoke of the importance of a strong start and the need to take advantage of the potentially vulnerable Bulls.
“There is desperation but at the same time, when you’re on the other end, there’s nothing you can do about it when you know that it’s coming to an end,” said Miller who has a lifetime record of 0-9 in playoff series. “There may be times where you’re trying hard, but you know that it could end soon, so that’s somewhat of a mental thing that they have to overcome.”
Catch Game 5 between the Wizards and Bulls on Tuesday at 8 p.m. on WFED 1500AM. Pregame coverage begins at 7:45 p,m. with Dave Johnson and Glenn Consor.