Enjoying the battle for the No. 9 seed

USA TODAY Sports

Aiming for one spot out of the playoffs may feel like the height of short-sightedness, but it certainly isn't pointless.

The tanking debate has been on ever since Randy Wittman publicly declared the Wizards aimed for the ninth spot. Hell, even Bullets legends got in on the act. Some sneered at the inanity of actively striving for worse odds in the lottery with playoff hopes hanging by a mathematical thread. Some sighed at late-season success redux. I grinned.

This is a league of manic competitors who understand that the NBA is a business. Tanking is an ugly reality and one the Wizards easily could have availed themselves of. Such a tack might have prevented Bradley Beal's injury. Conversely, it might have made things worse as he trained over the summer. It is unknown.

What is known is John Wall's continued growth as teams continue to give the Wizards their best shot. And they have to. As playoff teams look to round into form, they find themselves with the perfect foil: a defense-first squad with an alpha dog point guard showing superstar-potential. Teams out of the hunt? They're facing another team competing with maximum effort, fighting for pride. Like they're going somewhere. The Wizards publicly taking aim at the ninth seed is ludicrous on the surface, but it demands legitimate effort from the teams they're facing.

In years past, late-season surges (comparatively) have felt like they've enjoyed the most success against tanking squads, teams caught napping or resting their stars as playoff seeding crystallized. The Wizards can't sneak up on anyone with John Wall's emergence gaining serious traction. Paired with Washington's more than respectable defense, opponents have to pay attention or find themselves in a hole against a team that's tough to score on (most nights?) and a holy terror in transition.

All those pretty superlatives depend on the team being zeroed in, of course. And the Wizards' struggles on the road are certainly no secret. If the Wiz are to figure out their demons away from home they need as many tilts at full-bore as possible. And defeats like Tuesday night's in New York should serve to further illustrate how far this franchise has left to go.

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