Washington, coming off 4 straights wins, has 13 games, left, so we’ll take another look at the race for the 7th and 8th seeds in the Eastern Conference, with the Wizards only 2 games behind Indiana for 7th and 1.5 games out of 8th. At the beginning of last week the team had lost five straight games, including a terrible loss in Denver, and Wizards fans everywhere were wondering if it was time to tank. Playoff projection sites had the Wizards chances as low as 4%. One week later, Washington is in better standing, but has a looming home and home with red-hot Atlanta standing in the way. Below are the playoff projections from FiveThirtyEight from March 14th (after 5 straight losses) and March 21st (after 4 straight wins).
What’s Worked Recently
The Wizards are also one of three teams allowing less than 100 points per game since the All-Star break.
The last time we analyzed the schedule, we looked at the remaining home/road games, conference/division games, back-to-backs, and games against lottery teams among other stats. This time we’ll look to see if there are any points in the schedule where the Wizards have a legitimate chance to move up the standings. This won’t be using any fancy simulations, this is simply using the heralded “eye test”. We’ll compare the last three weeks against Indiana, Chicago, and Detroit, the other three teams fighting for spots 7 and 8.
The Wizards started the season poorly at home, 10-16 at one point. The team now stands 19-17 at home, winning 9 of its last 10 home game.
We’ve split up the remaining schedule into three sections, the home-and-home with Atlanta plus a home game with MIN, the looming road trip, and the final week of the season where the team plays five games in eight days.
Atlanta currently has the longest win streak in the East (5 games), has won 8 of its last 10 games, with the two losses coming against Toronto and Golden State. In 7 of the wins they’ve held opponents under 100. With the way Washington is playing, and the need for a win, we’ll assume they win the two home games.
Record: 2-1 (New record 36-36)
Pacers play Philadelphia, New Orleans (without AD), and Brooklyn this week. Should be three easy wins. Indy moves one game up on WAS. Now 2.5 games up in total.
Bulls play Sacramento, NYK twice, and Orlando. Should be 4 wins, but the Pau Gasol is questionable still, and the Bulls are 1-1 against the Knicks this season. With a four win week, Chicago moves 1.5 games up on the Wiz, now 3 games up in total.
The Pistons have by far the toughest schedule remaining in the group, this should help Washington fight for 7, 8, 9 seeds, and not stay in 10. Detroit plays Orlando, Milwaukee, Charlotte, Atlanta (all at home). 2 playoff teams. Atlanta won in Detroit last week. 2-2 week, Detroit drops half a game, now only 1 game up on WAS.
Updated records: CHI 39-33, IND 39-33, DET 38-36, WAS 36-36
LAL and PHX are two of the worst teams in the league, LAC is 4th in the West (4.5 GB of the 3rd seed), and GS (50 straight regular season home wins). Assuming no stunner in GS and the Wiz taking care of business against the Lakers, Kings, and Suns, the swing game will come at the Clippers on 4/3. The Wizards defense has improved greatly since Morris has become more comfortable, and LAC still doesn’t have Blake Griffin, and I’m a little bias, so I’ll be optimistic and say 4-1 on this road trip.
Record: 4-1 (New record 40-37)
Pacers play Houston, Chicago, Orlando, Philadelphia and New York. Indy is at home for the first two, and is 1-2 vs. Chicago, with the one win at home. Houston is fighting for a playoff sport out West. Assuming Dwight Howard isn’t suspended for this game, I think Houston gets the W. Knicks stink. 4-1 week. Washington gains no games.
Bulls play Atlanta, Indy, Houston, Detroit and Milwaukee, with the mid two games being on the road. I already gave Indy the W above, and ATL and HOU get the nod too, with the only win coming against Detroit. The Bucks 4-2 in its last 6 and already beat Chicago in Milwaukee once this year. Brutal 1-4 week. Washington gains 2.5 games, only 0.5 GB of CHI.
The Pistons play OKC, Dallas, and Chicago. OKC is the far superior team, and Chicago gets the game as noted above. Detroit beats Dallas at home, who they beat on the road by 6 on March 9th. 1-2. Washington gains 1.5 games and is now 0.5 games ahead of Detroit.
Updated records: IND 43-34, WAS 40-37, CHI 40-37, DET 39-38
Washington should have two cake games against the Nets, having won the only meeting so far in Brooklyn by 15 without Beal. The Wizards seem to have Detroit’s number, going 3-0 so far this season. They win those three, but lose to Charlotte, which has the third best record over the last 19 games (15-4), and lose the regular season finale in tough fashion to Atlanta at home. 3-2 record.
Record: 3-2 (New record 43-39)
Pacers play Cleveland, Toronto, Brooklyn, New York, and Milwaukee. Although Ty Lue is preparing to rest his team down the stretch, rather than pushing for the #1 seed, I think Cleveland takes this game seriously. This is a potential first round matchup, with 2 full days rest before the next game. Expect the Cavs to rest players the day before against Milwaukee. The Raptors are still pushing the Cavs for the number 1 seed at this point. The Pacers lose two, then win their last 3 games. 3-2. Wizards gain no games, finish 3 games behind IND.
Bulls play Memphis, Miami, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. Wins @ the injury riddled Memphis and New Orleans, and at home to Philly, gives Chicago a 3-2 record on the week. The Cleveland game is Saturday night on ABC and may be Cleveland’s last game at full strength before resting players the last two against ATL and DET, to give Cleveland a full week off before the start of the playoffs. 3-2. Even week with Washington. WIZ have the tiebreaker.
The Pistons play Miami, Orlando, Washington, Miami, and Cleveland. Detroit loses the Washington game and wins the Cleveland game as mention above. Detroit is actually 2-0 on the season against Miami, but one win was by 1 point. They split the two games here and beat Orlando. 3-2 week. Even week with Washington. One game back in 10th place.
7th: Pacers: 46-36 (Strong finish over last 3 weeks)
8th: Wizards: 43-39 (have tiebreaker over Chicago)
9th: Bulls: 43-39
10th: Pistons: 42-40
The key week for the Wizards, needing to jump Chicago in the standings because of their comparable schedule is the 8 day 5 game road trip. I have the Wizards beating the Clippers to go 4-1, but as with the entire last three weeks, they have to beat the teams they should, which we’ve said all year. In this outlook, Washington finishes the season 9-4 over its last 13 games.
Last Note: The last team in the Eastern Conference to miss the playoffs with at least 42 wins was the 2004-2005 Cavaliers in LeBron’s second season. The Raptors pass Cleveland for the #1 seed, and play Washington in the first round, in a rematch of last year’s first round series.