A Crucial Week For the Washington Wizards’ NBA Playoff Race


The Washington Wizards have finally gotten the monkey off of their backs. For the first time since February 9th, the Wizards have won a game, ending three weeks of torture for DC fans.

Last night, the Wizards beat the Detroit Pistons 99-95 at the Verizon Center, ending a six-game losing streak. They finished the month of February with a 3-9 record, which included losses to two cellar-dwelling teams, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers (26-90 combined record).

February was obviously the worst month of the season for the 34-26 Wizards, and there is only room for improvement from here on out. They played half-hearted defense, turned the ball over way too many times and they couldn’t hit a shot from three-point range. Fans across the region were calling for Coach Randy Wittman’s head, so a win couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Washington Wizards will have a great opportunity to get this train back on the right track this upcoming week, as they play three Eastern Conference teams in the Playoff picture; at the Chicago Bulls (Tuesday), versus the Miami Heat (Friday) and at the Milwaukee Bucks (Saturday). This could be the most important week of the season for the Wizards.

The Chicago Bulls (37-23) currently sit in third place, in the Eastern Conference, but there are numerous questions surrounding their team after the loss of Derrick Rose. The former Most Valuable Player had surgery on Friday, removing a torn meniscus from his right knee. He isn’t expected to return for four to six weeks, leaving the Bulls short-handed.

They are still a tough team that relies on their defense to win games. Since the All-Star Break, the Bulls have allowed 93.0 points per-game, which is sixth in the league over that time span. The Wizards better hope that Bradley Beal is available to play on Tuesday because the Bulls have also limited their foes from beyond the arc, allowing them shoot 28.0-percent from downtown.

Considering the Wizards have made only 25.5-percent of their shots from three-point range in that span, they might want to try finding higher percentage shots.

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The Bulls are 8-6 without Rose in the lineup this season, including 1-2 after this recent injury. John Wall will have to capitalize on the absence of Rose and produce a big game.

Aaron Brooks has started the past three games for the Bulls, during which he allowed 20.7 points and 9.0 assists per-game to his opponents (Ricky Rubio, Mo Williams and Chris Paul). If Wall fails to produce against Brooks, this game will be lost.

The team will receive three nights off before they take on the Heat in DC. The extra rest will be good for a team that is coming off of a recent four-games-in-five-nights stretch.

The Heat (25-33) are going through some injury problems of their own after losing Chris Bosh for the season, due to blood clots in his lungs. Expectations for the team were raised when they traded a number of role players for Goran Dragic, but those expectations were put on hold when Bosh’s injury was announced.

Miami sits eight games behind Washington in the standings but this game is still meaningful when you consider the Wizards have played like a lottery team lately. If they keep losing games at their current rate, Miami could make a push to catch them.

Since the All-Star Break, the Heat are scoring 102.2 points per-game, which is a huge increase from the 93.6 points per-game that they are averaging on the season. Their offense is moving at a much faster pace since acquiring Dragic, who is averaging 13.8 points and 5.4 assists per-game himself.

The key matchup in this game will be the battle of the paint between centers Marcin Gortat and Hassan Whiteside.

Whiteside was a little-known center playing in the D-League before the Heat picked him up. Now he looks like he may be the future of the league at his position (along with Andre Drummond).

February was his best month as a pro, as he averaged 14.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per-game.

Gortat is going to have to push his weight around in this matchup if the Washington Wizards are going to have some success. He has been on a roll the past five games, averaging 14.6 points, 13.4 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per-game. Against the Pistons, Gortat outrebounded Drummond 17-9. If he can win the battle of the boards against Whiteside, the Wizards will have a great chance to win.

The Milwaukee Bucks (32-27) will provide an interesting challenge the following night. This may turn out to be one of the biggest games of the year if these two teams are jockeying for position during the final week of the season. The Bucks are a game-and-a-half behind the Wizards in the standings.

Milwaukee was on a hot streak heading into the All-Star Break, winning eight out of nine games, but for monetary reasons, they decided to trade their leading scorer, Brandon Knight (17.4 ppg). In return, they received Michael Carter-Williams from Philadelphia, but the team has gone 2-4 since the trade.

Their offense has taken a major step back since the trade, scoring a league-worst 86.3 points per-game since the break. They have also turning the ball over 17.7 times during those six games. So far, Carter-Williams has been a disappointment offensively, averaging 10.3 points and 5.2 assists per-game.

However, their defense has remained great, allowing 82.8 points and forcing 18.8 turnovers per-game. Wall will have to be careful flinging crosscut skip passes and trying to thread the needle because the Bucks have length defensively. Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo have freakish wingspans, which have led to 10.5 steals per-game.

If Beal can lock down Khris Middleton, the Wizards should win. Middleton is becoming the focal point of the Bucks offense and his statistics have improved every month this season, as his role increases. He has been the Bucks leading scorer since the Knight trade, averaging 16.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per-game. If Beal can play the kind of active defense that he was last night, he can make it a long night for the Bucks.

Middleton isn’t the only player that the Washington Wizards should worry about.

Antetokounmpo is a beast when he gets going. He is still inconsistent but they call him ‘The Greek Freak’ for a reason. Paul Pierce could be in for a long night, considering that Giannis is the anti-Pierce at this point. It may be up to Otto Porter to come in the game and put the clamps on Antetokounmpo if Pierce can’t handle his athleticism.

All three of these games are equally important in their own right. The Wizards can either make a statement saying that they are back in the thick of the Eastern race, or they can continue to lose credibility as a Playoff team. We should have a good idea of what this team really is a week from now, once the dust settles.

Are they Dr. Jeckyl or Mr. Hyde?

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