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Scott Brooks must manage his starters’ minutes more down the stretch

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NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Things are still great in Washington despite Friday’s loss to the 76ers. After a head-scratching 2-8 start to the season, the Wizards have gone 32-14. They hold the third seed in the Eastern Conference and are starting to get the national media’s attention. Now, the Wizards need to address what short-term goals they want to reach this season.

The Wizards/Bullets franchise has been on the treadmill of mediocrity for decades now. Washington has a chance to win 50 games for the first time since 1978-1979 if they can finish with a 16-10 record down the stretch. It won’t be easy with 16 of their last 26 games on the road, but many of them will be against teams with losing records this season.

The Wizards are within striking distance of the Celtics, who currently hold the second seed and have an outside shot of getting the number one seed in the Eastern Conference if the Cavs struggle without Kevin Love down the stretch. The problem is, the Wizards’ success comes at a price.

Washington’s starters average 20.1 minutes per game on the court together, the second-most in the league behind Minnesota’s starting unit. John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Marcin Gortat are all top-25 in minutes played this season. The only other team that has three players in the group are the Timberwolves. So the question is, do the Wizards care about accolades such as a 50-win season or fighting for the highest possible seed, or would they rather focus on being healthy and well-rested when playoff time rolls along?

The main goals for Washington over these next 26 games should be to end the season healthy and capture either the second or third seed. The Wizards do not want to find themselves in the 4-5 matchup in the first round -- one they’ve been in the last two times they’ve made the playoffs. While the team may not fear Cleveland, they’d be better suited avoiding them until the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Wizards main goals for the remainder of the seasons should be the following:

1. Keep the starters’ minutes down.

2. Secure the 2-seed or 3-seed.

3. Go for 50 wins.

During this recent hot streak, the starters have been forced to play heavy minutes including several instances where Wall and Beal have eclipsed the 40-minute mark. And as we know, this team is a rolled ankle away from things turning south very quickly. So for that reason, it would be in Washington’s best interest to keep the minutes down while pursuing the second or third seed.

As it stands, it doesn’t look like Washington will be able to accomplish all three of the goals mentioned above regardless of what transpires at the trade deadline. Since a sacrifice has to be made, winning 50 games just because the franchise hasn’t experienced such a season in 40 years should be the last thing on their minds as a deep postseason run is much more important than a regular season accolade. Just look at Golden State last year.

If Brooks opts to play these guys heavy minutes in a schedule which features six back-to-backs, I’m concerned that might wear the starters out. But we wouldn’t see the trickle down effect until the second or maybe the third round of the playoffs, when it would matter most.

Is seeding important? Absolutely. Would a 50-win season be memorable for years to come? No doubt about it. However, with the starters set to play heavy minutes come playoff time, the team’s primary focus should be keeping their minutes down leading up to the postseason.