The Wizards will be the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference for the 2017 NBA playoffs thanks to this weekend's action. Washington's loss to Miami on Saturday, coupled with Toronto's win over the Knicks on Sunday afternoon, ensures the Wizards can't move ahead of the Raptors, Celtics, or Cavaliers.
The Wizards now know what seed they’ll be, but everything else around them is still up for grabs. The Hawks, Bucks, Pacers, and Heat all still have a chance to finish with the fifth seed. Additionally, there is still no clarity on who the Wizards would face if they advance to the second round. Cleveland and Boston both still have a chance to finish with the top seed and face Washington in a 1 vs. 4 series in the second round.
Now that the Wizards can no longer help or hurt their playoff positioning, Washington faces a decision on how to handle the last two games of the season. The team could use the week to rest up and prepare for their first round opponent, but they also still have a chance to finish with 50 wins (something the team hasn't done since 1979) if they can beat Detroit and Miami on the road.
Between the allure of a 50-win season, and the pride the team has shown this season in not resting starters like other teams, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Wizards try to chase 50 this week. Still, at least in this writer’s opinion, the prudent thing to do would be to give their starters a break.
Washington starters have played more minutes together than any other unit in the NBA this season, and their performance in recent weeks hasn’t been up to the standard they set earlier in the season. Prior to the All-Star break, the Wizards’ starters outscored opponents by 13.0 points per 100 possessions. Since the break, the starters have been outscored by 4.0 points per 100 possessions.
Should we blame that all on fatigue? Of course not. There are plenty of other factors that have contributed to the drop-off. Still, it’s hard to see how playing them these final two games will provide any benefit other than maintaining pride. Claiming a 50-win season for the first time since 1979 would be nice, but so would reaching the Conference Finals, something else the team hasn’t done since that season. Getting rest now gives Washington and advantage teams like Cleveland and Boston may not have as they battle for the top seed.
Besides, there’s no guarantee that if the Wizards run their starters out for these final two games that they’ll get to 50 wins. The Pistons would love to give their home fans something to cheer about before they call it a season, and Miami could be facing a do-or-die situation in the season finale on Wednesday.
With that in mind, the choice seems pretty clear: REST THE STARTERS. The benefits of giving their best players a break and avoiding injury in games that do nothing to help Washington’s playoff positioning far outweighs the reward for reaching a nominal win mark.