Washington Wizards: Russell Westbrook is willing the Wizards to the play-in tournament

It looked like this season was going to end with another lottery selection for the Washington Wizards. But I guess nobody told Russell Westbrook.

As the Wizards enter the season’s final stretch, they are flirting with the play-in tournament and a possible playoff birth. For a team that’s been below .500 for the entire season, it seems almost impossible that a postseason run of any kind would even be possible. And technically, they still have some work to do.

After the Wizards’ 123-111 victory over the Sacramento Kings, the Wizards pulled to within one game of the Chicago Bulls, who currently sit in the final spot for the play-in tournament. The Toronto Raptors, who have played two more games than the Wizards, are also between the Wizards and the postseason. However, both the Bulls and the Raptors have a much tougher end of the season than the Wizards. According to tankathon, the Bulls and Raptors remaining strength of schedule rank eighth and fifth, respectively. The Wizards have a much easier road, and their remaining strength of schedule is 27th.

If the Washington Wizards are playing beyond the regular season, thank Russell Westbrook.

The Bulls are sliding (6-14 since the All-Star break), and the Wizards have a chance of finishing the season among the East’s top ten. None of that would be possible without the stellar play from Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook has been putting up triple-doubles all season, but lately, he’s taken his game to a different level. With Bradley Beal missing time recently (he has played in four of the team’s last ten games), Westbrook has had to be the Wizards’ best player, and he has been. In the past six games, Westbrook had six triple-doubles, and the Wizards went 4-2.

Over the past ten games, Westbrook is averaging 23.1 points, 13.1 assists, and 13.6 rebounds while shooting 46.6 percent from the field. Of course, these aren’t Westbrook’s first triple-doubles of the season. He had 18 of them before his recent six-game streak, and he currently leads the NBA in triple-doubles with 24. But the recent triple-doubles have felt more impactful than the inefficient (and even frustrating) triple-doubles that we saw earlier this season. Those felt more like the product of stat chasing than legitimately contributing on all levels.

Now, we are instead seeing a version of Westbrook whose fingerprints are all over the game in all the right ways. And his teammates — especially rookie Deni Avdija — are following Westbrook’s lead. Given that the Wizards are still chasing a play-in and/or playoff birth, the final 18 games are crucial. They need to jump over both the Raptors and the Bulls, and they’ll need to play their best basketball of the season to do so. Luckily, Westbrook has them doing just that.

Earlier this season, Westbrook’s streak of six-straight All-Star Game selections ended. Now, another one of his impressive streaks is in jeopardy during his first season with the Wizards. Each of the last five seasons, Westbrook has found himself playing playoff basketball. Seeing how he’s playing lately, it’s obvious he doesn’t want that streak to end this season, too.