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The Wizards' odds of making the playoffs and their margin for error are both very slim

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Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

As of the All-Star break, the Wizards are 10th in the Eastern Conference, 3.5 games outside of the playoffs. While Cleveland and Toronto have solidified themselves at the top of the conference, the bottom of the East is a mess, with just three games separating #4 Atlanta and #8 Charlotte.

Just how likely is it that the Wizards climb out of their 3.5 game hole and make the playoffs? At first glance, the team appears primed for a big post-All-Star break run. After being the most injured team in the NBA, they are very close to having a healthy roster.

And the strength of schedule is about to get a lot easier. ESPN has the Wizards’ strength of schedule as the toughest in the league, while Basketball Reference puts them at the fifth overall and second in the East. The Wizards have 31 games remaining, and nine come against the five worst teams in the league.

In spite of this, season projection models are not kind to the Wizards. FiveThirtyEight’s CARM-Elo, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI), and Basketball Reference’s Playoff Probabilities models all have the Wizards finishing the season tenth in the conference with around 37 wins. While CARM-Elo gives the Wizards a 21 percent chance of making the playoffs, both BPI and Basketball Reference give them around a 9 percent chance. For comparison, each of these models gives Detroit (currently #9 in the standings) upwards of 60 percent odds.

wiz win pred feb 16 2016

Model

Projected EC Rank

Playoff Probability

FiveThirtyEight CARM-Elo

10

21%

ESPN Basketball Power Index

10

9.2%

bballref.com Playoff Probability

10

9.1%

What gives?

If the Wizards’ schedule is getting easier and they have players returning from injury, why do all three models predict they will essentially maintain their current win percentage?

It’s impossible to answer that without being able to dig into the actual math behind the models (which is not publicly available), but I have a pretty good guess. All three models heavily weight point differential, one of the best predictors of season win percentage. By this measure, Washington is 12th in the East and 22nd in the league. The eight teams with a worse point differential than the Wizards are, with very few exceptions (hello Nets), re-building teams.

So what will it take?


Based on the three models described above, it will take roughly 42-44 wins to get the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. To hit 42 wins this season, the Wizards will need to go 19-12 over the remainder of the season, a 61 percent winning percentage, just to get a shot at playing the top seed in the first round.

Is it doable? Looking at the Wizards schedule, it is certainly is. But it’s no guarantee. Even at full strength or near-full strength, the team has struggled this year with poor focus, inconsistent defensive effort, and turnovers galore. And the Pistons, just ahead of the Wizards at #9, have only gotten better by swapping Ersan Ilyasova for Tobias Harris. Charlotte nabbed Courtney Lee to help offset their injuries. And don't be surprised to see Chicago try to upgrade at the deadline as well.

Perhaps the pieces will finally click for the last stretch of the season. Perhaps Ernie Grunfeld will come up with just the right move at the trade deadline. Or perhaps a couple of the teams in front of the Wizards’ will fall down the standings; Chicago, Charlotte and Miami are all likely candidates with their recent injury waves. The playoffs are still within reach, but the Wizards will need the best from John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat. They will need at least one of Nene and Kris Humphries to stay healthy and play well. The margin for error is slim.

Data and model predictions all current as of 2/16/16 at 6:00 p.m.