You've heard and read us and many others suggesting Wednesday's Wizards-Bobcats is the most important one of the year. On his blog, Ted Leonsis called this "an important game for our franchise."
Just so we're clear, though, here's what's actually at stake tonight.
WHAT ARE THE STANDINGS?
The Wizards are currently 40-37, while Charlotte is 39-38. Thus, the Bobcats are one game back for sixth. A win by Charlotte moves the Bobcats into a tie for sixth place. A win by the Wizards gives them a two-game advantage with four games to play.
WHY IS SIXTH PLACE SO IMPORTANT?
The sixth-place team avoids Indiana or Miami in the first round. This was long seen as a sure loss, though it might not be with the way Indiana is currently playing. Of course, Miami hasn't locked up the No. 1 seed yet, so there's always the possibility they are the team the No. 7 seed plays, not the Pacers.
WHO WOULD OWN THE TIEBREAKER?
The first tiebreaker that comes into play is head-to-head record. Thanks to the Wizards' collapse in Charlotte last week, the Bobcats hold a 2-1 advantage in the season series. A victory in this game would sew up a 3-1 advantage and give Charlotte the tiebreaker. Therefore, while Charlotte and Washington would technically be tied in the standings, the Bobcats would be ahead.
However, if the Wizards win, the season series is knotted at two, putting the second tiebreaker --
conference winning percentage -- into play. With a victory, the Wizards would move to 30-18 against the Eastern Conference, while Charlotte would drop to 26-22. The only way that Charlotte can make up that gap is to win all its remaining games and see the Wizards lose all of theirs, but that would give them better actual record anyway. Therefore, the Wizards essentially would clinch the tiebreaker with a win.
EDIT: I misread the tiebreaker rules. Because the Bobcats and Wizards are in the same division, it's DIVISION RECORD that comes into play first. Here, the Wizards have already clinched regardless of Wednesday's result, as their 8-5 record is far better than Charlotte's 4-10 mark. So, the Wizards would have the tiebreaker.
Thus, there is a three-game swing at play in this game. A Bobcats victory ties them with the Wizards in the standings and gives them the tiebreaker, so Washington could only secure the sixth seed if they have a better record. A Wizards victory gives them a two-game advantage and the tiebreaker, so Charlotte would need to either win out and see the Wizards go 1-3 or go 3-1 and hope the Wizards lose out.
SAY THE WIZARDS LOSE. CAN THEY STILL PASS CHARLOTTE FOR SIXTH?
Yes. Here are the two teams' remaining schedules:
CHARLOTTE: at Boston, vs. Philadelphia, at Atlanta, vs. Chicago.
WASHINGTON: at Orlando, vs. Milwaukee, vs. Miami, at Boston.
The Wizards would need to finish one game better than Charlotte to take back the sixth seed. So, if Charlotte goes 3-1, the Wizards must win out. If Charlotte goes 2-2, the Wizards must go 3-1. If Charlotte goes 1-3, the Wizards must go 2-2. Etc.
Both teams have relatively easy endings. They will be favored in their next two games -- you should be able to count Charlotte's home game against Philadelphia and Washington's home game against Milwaukee as automatic wins. Both teams also play at Boston, which should be a victory. The Magic on the road is also a relatively easy game for the Wizards, though the Magic did beat Charlotte last week.
That leaves three swing games, with two on Charlotte's schedule. Atlanta, assuming it actually wants to make the playoffs (not an automatic assumption), should be motivated to beat Charlotte at home on Monday and does match up well with the Bobcats. Then again, Atlanta also lost to Detroit on Tuesday night, so who knows which Hawks team shows up. The Bulls may be fighting for seeding on the season's final day, but they could also have already clinched their spot. The same goes for the Heat when they face the Wizards on Monday.
We should assume that Charlotte will win at least two of its remaining four games. Therefore, the Wizards will likely need to go 3-1 or 4-0 to steal back the sixth seed should they lose tonight.
CAN YOU TELL ME MORE ABOUT IMPORTANT BOBCATS-WIZARDS GAMES IN THE PAST?
Of course! Jake has you covered.