Washington Wizards: Looking at the Wizards’ schedule and how they can make the playoffs

Washington Wizards, Bradley Beal (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards, Bradley Beal (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

The Washington Wizards are still very much in the playoff picture, so what will they need to do to actually secure a berth?

As of this writing, the Washington Wizards are 18-26 and two games out of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. In many ways, it’s hard to believe the Wizards are even in this position given that they’ve been swarmed by the injury bug all season (including to their star player, John Wall) and fraught with internal turmoil. Yet, here they are within striking distance of the playoffs.

So what do the Wizards have to do to actually secure a spot? How does the rest of the season have to play out to see Washington make the postseason for the third consecutive year?

Let’s take a look at previous playoff teams for reference.

In the past five seasons, the worst record to still make it to the playoffs has been 38-44, which was done twice by the 2013-2014 Atlanta Hawks and the 2014-2015 Brooklyn Nets.

That’s a winning percentage of just .463, which is higher than the current No. 8 seed in the East (.452 by the Charlotte Hornets at 19-23). As of now, the Wizards are at .409, so short, but also well within reach.

Coincidentally, FiveThirtyEight currently predicts the Wizards to finish with at 37-45 record, and actually finishing as the No. 8 seed in the East. In fact, their model gives the Wizards a 54-percent chance of making the playoffs, so slightly better than a coin flip. If that holds, that would make them the team with the lowest win total to make the postseason since the 2011-2012 lockout season.

Based off the Wizards’ current record, that means they would have to win 19 of their final 38 games to reach that 37-win mark. In other words, half of their remaining games.

Of those 38 games, 20 are home and 18 are on the road. The Wizards are clearly much better at Capital One Arena (13-8, .619) than away from it (5-18, .217). Based off of those winning percentages, the Wizards would then win about 12 of their remaining home games and four on the road. That’s a total of 16 wins.

That’s obviously short of the 19 wins needed to get to 37, and that’s assuming that minimum baseline ends up being all they need. But picking up an additional three wins over the course of the rest of the season also shouldn’t be to tall an order.

As we’ve seen in the past week, the Wizards have beat some of the league’s best, such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks. They also took the Toronto Raptors to double overtime on Sunday before falling 140-138. Stealing a game from a high-quality opponent is definitely feasible.

That said, the Wizards have also dropped their share of easy wins too, including to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, and Hawks. Additionally, they barely eked out a triple-overtime victory against the lowly Phoenix Suns last month. Point being, their current record indicates they’ve left some wins on the table, but are also more than capable of letting one slip away.

Looking forward, nine of the Wizards remaining games are against the four Eastern Conference teams below them (Hawks, Bulls, Cavaliers, and New York Knicks) and the Suns. Meanwhile, eight are against the current top three teams in each conference (Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Thunder in the West; Raptors, Bucks, and Indiana Pacers in the East).

That means 21 games will be against competitive teams either fighting for playoff positioning or just vying for spot period, and have incentive to come out and play every game. The Wizards are fortunate to still be a part of that group and will have very little opportunity to take a night off.

If they can win about half of those, combined with winning three-quarters against the lower-tier teams and a few versus the top-tier,  they’d be in prime position to secure a spot with 19-plus wins in their remaining games.

Next. Washington Wizards: Three Big Questions at the Halfway Mark. dark

Not everything will go according to plan though, which is why the Wizards can’t make any assumptions about which nights they can coast to a win or which nights they should just toss in the towel. Every game will matter and their margin for error is almost nil.