The eight teams that will make the Eastern Conference Playoffs are effectively set in stone. The eighth-place Heat are five games up on the ninth-place Pistons with just under a month left to play. It would take a catastrophic shift between now and the end of the season for a team to jump in the picture.
However, there is very little clarity on what the final brackets will look like. The Raptors and Celtics seem to have the top two seeds locked up, respectively, but the rest is a jumbled-up mess. Washington could host Miami as a three-seed to start the playoffs, or they could start on the road as an eight seed in Toronto. It’s all on the table.
Moreover, each playoff team in the East has unique strengths and flaws. There are reasonable scenarios where the Wizards lose to any of the seven teams they might face, but they also have victories against every single team in the playoff picture, so there’s a chance they can make it work over the course of a series.
For the sake of simplifying things, it’s probably best to sort the seven teams into three tiers.
Indiana, Miami, and Milwaukee all pose their challenges, but they each have a fatal flaw Washington should be able to exploit if they’re at full strength in the first round.
Indiana lacks experience and Washington knows better than most that Bojan Bogdanovic’s defense can be exploited in the playoffs. Miami will cause lots of problems in the paint for Washington, but shortened playoff rotations will mitigate their depth advantage. Milwaukee will always be scary with Giannis, but the lack of clarity around their coaching situation and a recent spate of injuries will make it difficult for them to reach their potential.
Tier 2: It’s a coin toss (76ers)
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are going to be huge problems for Washington. The Wizards have enough issues guarding one talented big man. Guarding two will push them to the limit. On top of that, Philadelphia recently added Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, who have both been known to go off for big games at Washington’s expense. That experience should help balance out whatever struggles Philly faces in their first playoff series since 2012.
On the other end, Wall and Beal should have a similar against on Philadelphia, provided they’re both healthy. Beal averaged 25 points per game against Philly this season and has had some success guarding J.J. Redick at times. Wall only played them once, but went off for 28 points and 8 assists in that game.
This might just come down to who has home court advantage in the first round.
Tier 3: The Wizards wouldn’t be favored, but they would have a shot (Cavs, Celtics, Raptors)
Washington would have plenty of confidence going into a series against any of these three, some of that confidence might be misplaced, but understandable. They’ve had success in the playoffs against the Raptors, the Celtics have looked a lot more human since the start of December, and the Cavaliers have a losing record since the All-Star break. That said, it would be better if Washington could hold off on facing them until at least the second round.
In the latest episode of the Bullets Forever Podcast, we go more in-depth on how the Wizards stack up against each team in the East playoff picture and rank the teams from least worrisome to most worrisome.
Here’s what our lists look like:
Jake’s Picks from least worrisome to most worrisome
Alan’s Picks from least worrisome to most worrisome