Now that the Wizards have locked up home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs, it’s a good time to stop and take a look at the teams they could potentially face in the first round. Believe it or not, there are still seven teams the Wizards could face in the first round, who each bring different matchup challenges to the table.
Here’s how we would rank those seven squads, from least scary to most scary:
The Pistons have been a mess most of the season. They’ve been hampered by injuries and infighting, and it’s really bit them lately. They’ve lost five of their last six and eight of their last ten. Unless they can turn it around immediately, they’re not going to make the playoffs at all.
But even if Detroit gets it together and winds up facing Washington, this is a good matchup for the Wizards. Washington has won 3 of the last 5 against Detroit. All three wins came by double-digits, one of their losses came after the team shut John Wall down last season, and the other loss came on a Marcus Morris tip at the buzzer.
Charlotte is a half-game behind Detroit right now, but they’re on the upswing, winning five of their last seven, including a win at home over the Wizards.
The Hornets don’t have a lot of elite talent, but they don’t beat themselves. They’re among the best at limiting turnovers, which will limit Washington’s opportunities to create in transition where John Wall is at his best.
The Wizards shouldn’t have any problems beating Charlotte in a series, but it won’t be a cake walk.
The Bulls, like the Pistons, have been hampered by injuries and infighting, but the Bulls have one thing the Pistons don’t: Jimmy Butler. He averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 6.3 assists in three games against Washington this season.
Thankfully for the Wizards, Chicago doesn’t have many other threats on the floor, which should keep the series from getting too competitive. That said, Butler alone has the potential to steal a game and make the series drag on longer than it should.
Plus, he has a bit of a history of getting under Washington’s skin when necessary:
Most of what we said about Chicago applies to Indiana as well. They’ve got a great player on the wing, and not a whole lot else. But at least they have some shooting on the wing, which makes them a little more dangerous against Washington.
Plus, Paul George has been known to have some big playoff performances at the Verizon Center.
The Hawks have the worst offense in the league since the All-Star break, which is pretty remarkable considering they're fighting for playoff positioning while there are other teams who are trying to preserve ping-pong balls for the Draft Lottery.
Atlanta should get better once Paul Millsap is back in the lineup, but he won't fix all of their woes. Plus, the team will still be dealing with the looming specter of Millsap's impending free agency.
The Bucks could be a challenge. Washington won the season series 3-1, but that was thanks in large part to Giannis Antetokounmpo missing the final game of the series in Milwaukee due to an illness. In the three he did play, the Wizards escaped with two close wins at home, and lost by 29 on the road in Milwaukee.
The Wizards have improved a lot since they last played the Bucks on January 8, but the Bucks have changed as well. Jabari Parker is out for the season, but they got Khris Middleton back, Malcolm Brogdon is getting better with each game, and Thon Maker is starting to make an impact as well.
The Bucks haven’t been great defensively this season, but they have a lot of disruptive length, which makes it harder for the Wizards to make cross-court passes and beat the Bucks down the floor in transition. Plus, they’ve got players with lots of playoff experience and scoring punch coming off the bench like Greg Monroe, Jason Terry, Mirza Teletovic, and Matthew Dellavedova. If the bench struggles, Milwaukee can run out to big leads when the Wizards’ starters aren’t on the floor.
Washington should still win a series with Milwaukee, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see this series go 6 or 7 games.
#1 Miami Heat
The Wizards need to avoid this team like the plague. The Heat have outscored opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break. That’s the second-best Net Rating in the league behind only the Warriors.
Granted, some of that is having a favorable schedule down the stretch, and some of that is because they’re pressing hard for a playoff spot while most other teams have started to ease off the gas. But there’s no question they’ve been one of the most impressive teams in the East over the past three months. The only two teams in the East who have won more games than the Heat since January 1 are the Wizards and the Celtics. They’re going to be a handful for whatever team they face in first round.
Furthermore, the Heat have always been a handful for the Wizards. Miami is 2-0 against Washington this season, and both of those games came early in the season before the Heat went on their big run. Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside always seem to get the best of John Wall and Marcin Gortat for whatever reason, and James Johnson has always been a matchup challenge for the Wizards over the years.
And let’s not forget Erik Spoelstra has already beaten Scott Brooks head-to-head in a playoff series. Yes, a lot has changed since the 2012 NBA Finals, but this season has made it perfectly clear that he’ll make it hard for whatever team he has to face in the playoffs.
On the bright side, Ian Mahinmi should give Washington a different type of center to throw at Hassan Whiteside in a potential matchup. Plus, the Wizards still have two more games against them this season where they can experiment with different lineups and strategies to slow the Heat down should they meet again in the playoffs.
The Wizards should and likely will advance against whichever team they face in the first round, but if there’s one team who could pull off the upset or at least make Washington very, very nervous it’s Miami.
For a more in-depth look at potential first round opponents, as well as what matchups might favor the Wizards in the second round, check out the latest episode of the Bullets Forever Podcast, where we discuss all that and more.