WASHINGTON — For the first time since Ted Leonsis became the Washington Wizards’ majority owner in 2010, the team is headed to the second round of the NBA playoffs.
The Wizards eliminated the Chicago Bulls, 4 games to 1, in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, closing out the series with a 75-69 win in Game 5 on Tuesday.
“It’s a lot of hard work by our fans and I’m really appreciative of the way that they’ve been supporting the team,” Leonsis told the Wizards Radio Network moments after the series-clinching win.
“They deserve this. I hoped and promised that we could build a team that was as good as the fanbase and I think we’re starting to see that.”
Leonsis knew when he took control of the struggling franchise that it would take time to rebuild the roster and change the culture around the organization. Nearly four years later, the owner’s patience is paying off in a big way.
“I’m very proud,” Leonsis said. “We have high-integrity, high-character young men on this team. Having Nene back [from a one-game suspension], that really uplifted the team. They really respect this coaching staff as well. I think Randy [Wittman] did a fantastic job — for a head coach in his first playoff series, I thought he was magnificent.”
John Wall and his backcourt mate Bradley Beal have impressed as they experience the postseason for the first time in their pro careers. Wall finished the series with a team-high 24 points in Game 5, and the Wizards had a different leading scorer in each of their wins against Chicago.
“They’re a young backcourt, and it could become the best backcourt in the NBA,” Leonsis said of Wall and Beal.
“They have the ball in their hands all the time; they score a lot of points together, and so I think that the team is set up to continuously improve. But I don’t want to look [too far] forward. I know that the guys aren’t satisfied just [getting] through one round. There isn’t a whole lot of celebrating and I think that’s the right atmosphere that we want to build. They expect to be a good team and let’s move on to the next round.”
The Wizards have advanced to the second round for just the second time since 1982, and Washington will now face either the Atlanta Hawks or the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Hawks lead the Pacers, 3 games to 2, with Game 6 scheduled for Thursday night in Atlanta. The Wizards went 3-1 against the Hawks this season and 1-2 against Indiana.
“We deserve to go to the next round, and now we’ll just wait,” Leonsis said. “I hope that Atlanta-Indiana goes seven games. I don’t care who wins, but let’s see it go seven games.”
Regardless of who or when the Wizards play next, Leonsis has no doubt that they will be ready.
“You can just sense when you’re around the team as they’re building confidence and that they like each other, the chemistry in the locker room is just so strong.”