Only 25 games stand between the Wizards and the 2018 NBA playoffs. At the moment, the Wizards are fourth in the Eastern Conference, just 1.5 games behind the Cavaliers for third. On the flip side, they only have a half-game lead over the fifth-place Pacers and only 3.5 games separate them and the eighth-place Heat.
In other words, there’s still a lot to be determined between now and the end of the regular season. The answers to these four questions will shape how the rest of this season plays out and what position the team will be in as they enter the playoffs.
When exactly will John Wall return?
Wall underwent surgery on January 31, and was projected to miss six to eight weeks. If he were back in exactly six weeks, he’d return for Washington’s March 14 meeting against the Celtics in Boston. If it’s eight weeks, his first game back would be March 29 against the Pistons in Detroit.
At best, Wall and the Wizards will have 14 games to get re-acclimated and up to speed for the playoffs. If it takes eight weeks or more, the team will only have a handful of games to get caught up, and most of them come against teams who will either be out of the playoffs, or so secure in their position that they won’t need to bring their A game.
Wall has a lot of experience with the rest of the core, so if he’s fully healthy, they should be able to pick up right where they left off. However, if Wall’s not fully himself, they may still be trying to find their rhythm as they prepare for their first-round opponent.
Can Bradley Beal keep up his workload?
Over the past two months, Jodie Meeks has become less of a factor in the team’s rotation, and he’s been replaced by ... more Bradley Beal. Since the start of January, Beal is averaging 38.2 minutes per game, tied with Anthony Davis for the second-highest average in the NBA behind pre-injury DeMarcus Cousins.
There doesn’t appear to be any relief in the immediate future. The team didn’t make a move at the deadline to shore up their depth and they are reportedly more focused on adding another point guard than adding another wing in free agency.
Tomas Satoransky has the size to fill in behind Beal in the playoffs, but he won’t be able to do that until after Wall returns to the lineup. Until then, Washington will have to hope Beal can hold up on both ends as the Wizards face their most difficult stretch of the season.
Can Kelly Oubre get out of his funk?
Things have gone downhill for Kelly Oubre since his career-best night against the Pistons on January 19. In the eleven games since that 26 point outburst, he’s shooting 31.2 percent from the field, 23.2 percent from deep, and the team’s net rating with him on the floor in those games is -4.7 after posting a positive net rating for most of the season.
There’s no need to panic about Oubre’s slump just yet — it’s a small sample size in a looooong season — but the longer it keeps up, the more it becomes an issue for Washington. They’ve managed to go 7-4 so far during this slump, but they’ve also faced some easy competition through that stretch. It’s going to be much more difficult for the team to pull out wins against teams like the Warriors, Cavaliers, Raptors, and Bucks if Oubre continues to be an offensive liability.
Which big man will close out games for the Wizards?
Scott Brooks has opted for a committee approach at center to close out games in recent months. Marcin Gortat still gets a lot of opportunities to finish games, but he hasn’t been afraid to go to Markieff Morris at the 5, and he’s even used Ian Mahinmi when he’s playing well.
Each player brings unique pros and cons to the table, so there may not be a clear answer to closes games for Washington. If nothing else, Brooks needs to use the rest of the regular season to determine how to put his big men in the best position to succeed when they face tight playoff games.