In a season described by most as a “rebuilding year”, the Washington Wizards currently sit only 3.5 games out of playoff contention.
With the amount of injuries and lineup changes the Washington Wizards have been forced to endure this season, you’d think the team would be gearing up for a lottery pick in next year’s draft. However, almost halfway through the season, the battered and bruised Wizards have yet to fold and “embrace the tank”, and have actually put themselves in position to make a run for the playoffs.
Sitting at 15-29 on the season after Thursday night’s 124-112 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wizards are now only 3.5 games back from the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. However, in order to gain more momentum in hopes for a playoff push down the road, several things need to happen.
The first thing that is of the utmost importance for the Wizards if they want to make a run for the playoffs is to get completely healthy.
At one point not too long ago, the entire starting 5 of the Wizards were on the shelf nursing injuries:
- John Wall is out indefinitely with an Achilles injury.
- Talented rookie Rui Hachimura has been sidelined since mid December after an accidental kick to the groin by a teammate.
- Thomas Bryant and Davis Bertans just returned to action after multi-game hiatuses.
- Even All-Star iron man Bradley Beal rode the pine for several games after dealing with leg soreness.
Obviously, it’s pivotal that the Wizards get these stars back on the floor. While the likes of Gary Payton II, Jordan McRae, and Troy Brown Jr. have stepped up their game to keep the Wizards afloat, the Wizards can’t go much longer without their core group of guys on the floor to get them over the hump and into the playoffs.
The good news is, however, that these injuries seem to be clearing up. Rui Hachimura seems to be on the cusp of making a return, per Washington Post journalist Candace Buckner. Hachimura’s presence as both a scorer and rebounder has been sorely missed in the month he’s been inactive.
Rui Hachimura has been cleared for all activities, per Scott Brooks
— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) January 22, 2020
Bradley Beal has also returned and is back to being the Beal that Wizards fans are accustomed to seeing. Over his last three games, Beal has averaged over 34 points and 6 rebounds per contest, per Basketball-Reference.
With the All-Star break looming, Beal has made it clear he deserves the chance to represent D.C. in Chicago for the All Star game, and if he continues to keep up his impressive pace, the Wizards will be tough to beat.
Win Winnable Games
It seems that despite the clear lack of defensive precision, the Washington Wizards’ offense is potent enough to stay with most teams in the league. However, they’ve been mostly unsuccessful in winning games that come down to the wire.
Take Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Miami Heat for example. The Wizards stormed back from a 19 point halftime deficit to take a 1-point lead with 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter. With the game tied, Bradley Beal had the chance to knock off a red hot Miami Heat team who is seemingly unbeatable at home, but couldn’t sink the buzzer beating jumper.
This isn’t the only instance of being unable to win close games. In fact, out of the Wizards’ 29 total losses, 14 of them have been by 10 points or less. Think about that for a second. If the Wizards manage to close out even half of those games, they’d be at least the 8th seed in the playoffs right now, instead of on the outside looking in.
And I know, it’s easy for me to say that the Wizards should just, you know, win the games. But the potential is there, the talent is there (when healthy) and the opportunity is there. If the Wizards can finish games out more productively, there’s no telling how fast the season could turn for the better.
Continued Player Development
When Washington’s stars are healthy, this squad is a threat to any team in the league. However, as exemplified by this season specifically, the injury bug can strike anyone at any time. Therefore, the development of younger role players is crucial to the long term success of the team, if they were to push for the playoffs.
Previously mentioned players such as Troy Brown Jr, Gary Payton II, Anzejs Pasecniks as well as Isaac Bonga will be paramount in the success of the Wizards. Funneling them into the rotations to give them quality minutes to learn behind a talented starting lineup is something coach Scott Brooks should certainly continue to stress, especially if the push for the playoffs actually comes to fruition.
Now, I know that the Wizards somehow making the playoffs may be a long shot. But this season has probably been the most unpredictable one in many years, so why not make a playoff run out of it?
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