The Wizards’ loss to the Rockets on Tuesday was not unexpected, but still puts a damper on their chances of finishing in the top six of the Eastern Conference standings and repeating as Southeast Division champions.
Washington and Miami are now tied with 42-35 records after the Heat’s win over the Hawks. The Wizards’ final four games are at Cleveland, at home against the Hawks, at home against the Celtics, and on the road in Orlando. The Heat close with games at Atlanta, at New York, at home against the Thunder, and close on the road against the Raptors, who likely won’t have anything left to play for on the last night of the regular season.
If you assume the Heat beat the Hawks, Knicks, and Raptors’ B-Team, then Washington would need to win out to finish with a better seed than Miami. If both teams tie, Miami would win the tiebreaker over Washington by virtue of a better record within the division.
Assuming that plays out, the question then becomes can the Wizards hold off the Bucks for the seventh seed? Milwaukee is also 42-35, thanks to their win over the Celtics on Tuesday, and they may not face another team with something to play for the rest of the regular season. They close by hosting the Nets, going on the road to face the Knicks, hosting the Magic, and then they finish on the road in Philadelphia, who may have the third seed locked up by tip-off.
If the Wizards and Bucks wind up tied, the Wizards will hold the tiebreaker. They split the head-to-head series and Washington currently holds a two-game lead against in-conference foes. The only way the Bucks can finish with a better record against teams in the East is by jumping the Wizards in the standings, at which point the tiebreaker is moot.
The thing which complicates it all is that everyone would prefer to be the seventh seed and face the shorthanded Celtics. Question is, will anyone be bold enough to pack it in to help their odds?
Washington probably wouldn’t try to pack it in, especially after they accused Cleveland of doing the exact same thing last season, but if Miami or Milwaukee wants to do it, they would be in a good position. Their opponents on the final night, Toronto and Philadelphia, probably won’t care whether or not they win or lose, whereas Washington will be playing the Magic, who will be packing it in themselves to help their lottery odds.
Buckle up folks, it could get weird between now and April 11.