AL HAMNIK: NBA playoffs cancel out labels & tags

2014-04-20T19:00:00Z 2014-04-26T22:38:08Z AL HAMNIK: NBA playoffs cancel out labels & tagsAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
April 20, 2014 7:00 pm  • 

CHICAGO | It's not shameful to be the underdog. Ask David. Ask Goliath when he finally wakes up.

Underdogs don't quit, they don't punch out and go home early. If anything, being the underdog should anger and inspire you.

Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman hoped that would be the case against the favored Bulls on Sunday night, white flags be damned.

"We've talked since Day 1 about getting to this day with this team," Wittman said prior to tipoff. "I think we're ready to go. They're excited. That's the main thing when you get into this situation — have fun.

"You've got to slow down and smell the flowers a little. You're running by the flowers so damn fast, the petals are coming off."

There's no pressure on underdogs, while heavy favorites like the Clippers, Heat, Pacers, Thunder and Spurs feel their collars tighten a bit. It's only natural.

The Bulls have made the playoffs nine of the last 10 seasons. This is Washington's first appearance since 2008.

Of the Bulls' 15 players, 12 have postseason experience, so the "underdog" tag fits Wittman's Wizards like Spandex. Right?

"No," he said flat out. "I think we're capable, as we proved all year long, that we can beat anybody. It's just a matter of playing the games.

"Whether I think I'm an underdog or you think I'm an underdog doesn't make any difference when we go out on the floor. You gotta win four games and that's our attitude."

Even Wizards' fans still have doubts, as the team's four home sellouts this season would indicate. But here they are, winners in eight of their final 11 regular-season games, including a 2-1 series edge on Chicago.

"We gotta play our way," Wittman said. "We've focused on that all year long. I want these guys to worry about themselves and how we have to play, what we have to do, going into each game.

"When we do that, we're pretty successful."

The former Indiana University standout and one of Bob Knight's all-time favorite players, the ever-confident Wittman is a good fit to the Wizards, a franchise slowly climbing back to respectability.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau already is a believer.

"When you look at their entire team, they do have experience. The only guys who don't are Bradley Beal and John Wall, and they're young," Thibodeau said. "They've done a good job by adding the veterans they have with Nene, (Marcin) Gortat has played a lot of games and (Trevor) Ariza has won a championship.

"We know how good they are. You look at their conference record (33-19). Look at their road record (22-19). Look at the way they finished the season."

All while smelling the flowers. That's some trick.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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