Playoffs Still Possible for the Washington Wizards

Washington Wizards (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Washington Wizards (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Last season, the Washington Wizards’ playoff fate wasn’t decided until the season’s final game. This year, things might go down to the wire once again. But don’t be surprised if they’e playing past the regular season.

Pump the brakes on the draft pick projections for the Washington Wizards. You may not want to hear this, but these Wizards may claim the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot for the second straight season. They’ll certainly need some help, but don’t count the Wizards out of it just yet. They’ve been saying they are a playoff team all season. Maybe it’s time we believe them.

Favorable-ish Schedule

With less than 20 games left in the season, the Wizards sit three games behind the 8th place Charlotte Hornets. Somehow the playoffs are still within reach. Just barely close enough to be touched by the longest of outstretched fingertips. But reachable.

Going into tonight’s game vs the Dallas Mavericks, FiveThirtyEight gives the Wizards the best chance of making the playoffs: 10%. ESPN gives them just a 9.3% chance, and Basketball Reference has even less faith at 5.9%

Yet, the Wizards remaining schedule lends itself quite well to a late playoff run. In their final nineteen games, the Wizards will play just six games against teams above .500. Charlotte and the Miami Heat, two teams standing between the Wizards and the 8th seed, each play nine more games vs teams with a winning record.

Plus, the Wizards have a chance to make up some ground with multiple head-to-head match-ups against other teams vying for the East’s final playoff spots. Washington still has two more games vs 8th place Charlotte, and one apiece vs Miami (9) and the Orlando Magic (10). If the Wizards can manage to win all four of those games, they’d own tiebreakers with Charlotte and Orlando, while splitting the season series vs Miami.

According to Tankathon, the Wizards’ remaining schedule is just the 27th most difficult in the NBA. Charlotte and Miami both have remaining schedules more difficult than the Wizards. Luckily, Washington was able to take advantage of their favorable schedule, starting off a soft 10-game stretch with a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Obviously, they’ll need to keep that up to keep their hopes alive.

Built for a Playoff Push…Kind Of

The Wizards have been preaching playoffs all season even while being in a perpetual state of basketball limbo.

Despite an active roster that now includes just two of the Wizards’ opening night starters (Bradley Beal, Ian Mahinmi), the roster overhaul has not decimated their playoff chances.

Deadline acquisitions Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis have each turned in multiple great games during their short time in D.C., adding scoring and rebounding to a team that desperately needs both. Portis has even played himself into a starting role, supplanting Thomas Bryant. And with Dwight Howard suffering yet another rehab setback, Washington will need Portis for the season’s final stretch.

Portis is set to hit free agency this summer. He, along with a bevy of other pending free agents, will need to prove his value before a summer of contract negotiations. Wizards players that will enter free agency this summer include:

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s the majority of the team. With that many guys looking to prove their worth, don’t expect to see their effort levels dip all that much. Do you really think we’re going to see Bryant giving anything less than 110% even as he comes off the bench? Neither do I.

Just look at what Sam Dekker did when he finally got some playing time in Washington’s recent win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. After playing just one total minute in the Wizards’ previous eight games, Dekker scored 11 points on 75% shooting, adding 2 rebounds and 3 assists in just 14 minutes. Maybe he should be playing more. Just a thought.

Even Wizards that won’t be worrying about free agency this summer have reason to keep balling. Rookie Troy Brown Jr has finally seen his minutes increase and has made the most of his new opportunities as part of the rotation. More good showings from Brown should help convince coach Scott Brooks that Brown is indeed worth playing, even if those minutes don’t come until next season.

Likewise, there’s a good chance Bradley Beal‘s stellar play continues despite an exhausting season for one of the NBA’s leaders in minutes played. If Beal receives All-NBA consideration this season, he’ll become eligible for a supermax extension similar to John Wall‘s. Money’s always a great motivator. Maybe the best one.

dark. Next. The Wizards' Player Development Dilemma

With a schedule that lends itself well to a late-season run, and a roster full of future free agents, the Wizards might have stumbled into an unconventional solution for their playoff predicament. A win tonight vs the Dallas Mavericks would certainly be a step in the right direction.