Now that All-Star Weekend is over, it’s time to focus on the final stretch of the regular season. Washington only has 24 games left to climb back into the top eight, or else enter the draft lottery for the first time since 2013 (they traded their first-round pick to Phoenix the last time they missed the playoffs).
The Bucks, Raptors, 76ers, Pacers, Celtics, and Nets are all virtual locks to make the playoffs at this point. The Bulls, Knicks, Cavaliers, and Hawks are all too far out of contention to make a push now. That leaves the Hornets, Heat, Pistons, Magic, and Wizards to fight over the final two playoff spots.
The Pistons hold the tiebreaker over the Wizards after winning the season series 2-1. The Magic and Heat are both up 2-1 against Washington at the moment, however Washington hosts the final game in both series. The Hornets and Wizards have three games against each other this season which will provide more clarity. Washington won the first meeting back in March.
The good news for Washington is they have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league. They only have three games left against teams in the top four of either conference, and one of those is against the Pacers, who will be without Victor Oladipo. The bad news is the Magic have an even easier strength of schedule the rest of the way, and Detroit’s schedule is only a hair tougher than Washington’s.
The bigger problem right now though is the Wizards lost ground the last two weeks and doesn’t have much time left to make it up. Basketball-Reference projects Charlotte, Miami, Detroit, and Orlando will finish with 39 or 38 wins. They project the Wizards will finish with 34. Washington would need to go 14-10 the rest of the way (a 48-win pace) just to get to 38 wins, and that may not even be enough.
That’s why FiveThirtyEight, Basketball-Reference, and ESPN BPI all give the Wizards less than a one-in-five chance of making the playoffs. Going 14-10 or even 15-9 down the stretch to sneak back in isn’t implausible, but it doesn’t happen often.
So why not tank? Well, the reality is it‘s far too late to go the other direction. The Wizards already have 24 wins. If they didn’t win a single game the rest of the way, Basketball-Reference projects four teams would still finish with a worse record than Washington. In that case, they’d go from a 7.5 percent chance at the top pick to a 10.5 percent chance. At that point, they’d have about the same odds of winning the lottery as they have of making the playoffs now.
The cold, hard reality is it will be hard for the Wizards to get in a good position for a playoff spot or a high lottery pick. No matter what direction the team takes the rest of the way, they’ll need a lot of luck to salvage this unfortunate season.