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Wizards second half schedule: back-to-backs and tougher opponents

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We take a look at what looms for the Wizards after the All-Star Break.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday night’s loss against LA’s other team hurts. We can lick our wounds and wrap the loss in the fact that a record of 5-1 over the past six is progress.

And it is.

Probably.

No! It is!

But it doesn’t stop us from lamenting over how close the Wizards were to making it six wins on the bounce. After an overtime triumph against the Los Angeles Lakers mere hours prior to Tuesday’s tipoff, our plucky Wizards began the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers down five.

At that point, the decision to stay up late and drink a few (whatever you drink) after brashly predicting a Wizards win was looking prescient. But as fortune would have it, the Wizards could not buy a bucket in the fourth. And the reason why is clear: The team had overdrawn its energy account in the overtime win against the LeBrons Lakers.

Out of energy and time, our win streak was done in by the NBA’s vaunted back-to-back. That sucks.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Why the freak are there back-to-back games in a pandemic season?

Maybe (or obviously) it’s justified due to logistics. Or maybe it’s an ode to what greats of yesteryear endured before today’s iteration of basketball greatness. “We had to do it,” the OGs arguments go, “so do these guys.”

But what to do when relics from the past lose both polish and purpose? Get rid of it. These back-to-back games should stop. Pronto! The players don’t perform well. The injury risks increase when playing high-level basketball on such short rest (Thomas Bryant’s ACL tear occurred on the second night of a back-to-back). And, losing games because of fatigue is brutal, unfair, and an obstacle to the Wizards' path to the playoffs.

Having dug themselves a hole, the only way to plug the gap is to now pile on consecutive wins. Yet, a look at the NBA’s schedule for the second half of the season shows that what lies ahead for the Wizards is frightening.

In addition to the remaining first half helping of Minnesota and Boston, the NBA’s scheduling czar assigned the Wizards back-to-back pairings of Philadelphia and Milwaukee (yikes!), Kings and Jazz (hoping for a split), Indiana and Charlotte (toss-up; might sweep, split, or double L it.), Warriors and Suns (out west), New Orleans and Detroit (hoping for a sweep), Cavs and Spurs (should sweep), Cleveland and Luka’s Mavericks (split), and Bucks and Raptors(yikes!).

18 of the remaining 43 games will be back-to-back. That’s beastly. Welp, it is what it is. On to the second half of the season. Godspeed.

Second 52% Forecast

Ron is right to grumble about back-to-backs. The effect is measurable and is equivalent to homecourt advantage (HCA). To put some numbers on it: HCA is worth about 2.33 points. So, for example, when the Wizards play the Bucks March 13 one night after playing the 76ers, the HCA is effectively negated.

Skip ahead to May 5 and 6 when the Wizards play in Milwaukee and then travel to play the Raptors. The back-to-back and Toronto/Tampa HCA puts Washington at a disadvantage of 4.66 points.

As Ron notes, injury risk does increase in back-to-backs, which means it’ll be incumbent on the medical staff to monitor workloads to get players adequate rest. This is going to be a challenge given their aspirations to make the playoffs and the deep hole they dug themselves to begin the season.

According to my prediction system, based on performance so far this season, the Wizards are currently favorites in just 4 of the 37 games added to their schedule. They’re currently favored in just 1 of the 5 remaining on their first half schedule. Note: Washington will have 71 games.

Don’t worry: it’s highly unlikely the Wizards go 5-37 to finish out the year. I include it as an illustration of how poorly the team has played so far, and the uphill climb the team must make.

Using aggregate efficiency differential vs. the remaining opponents, the predicted record the rest of the way is 14-28. That would get Washington to 24-25 wins, which is probably just good enough to finish 9th or 10th and enter the post-season play-in games.

That’s assuming, of course, that the Wizards continue to play at the level they’ve exhibited so far — -5.50 strength-of-schedule adjusted scoring margin. While they’re not likely to repeat the recent five-game winning streak, it’s plausible to think they’ll play better the rest of the way.

Here’s a look at predicted final number of wins if I make different assumptions about their scoring margin:

  • -5.50 — 24.2
  • -4.00 — 25.7
  • -3.00 — 26.3
  • -2.00 — 27.9
  • -1.00 — 28.5
  • 0.00 — 30.3

To reach my preseason forecast of 33 wins, I estimate the team needs to achieve a strength of schedule adjusted scoring margin of +3.89. How likely is that? Here’s the top 10 in this category so far this season:

  1. Utah Jazz +11.05
  2. Milwaukee Bucks +7.16
  3. Los Angeles Clippers +6.41
  4. Phoenix Suns +5.36
  5. Los Angeles Lakers +4.14
  6. Brooklyn Nets +3.98
  7. Denver Nuggets +3.78
  8. Philadelphia 76ers +2.29
  9. Toronto Raptors +1.87
  10. Golden State Warriors +1.82

So, all the Wizards need to do is go from one of the league’s three weakest performers thus far to being one of the top 7.

While posting a poor record for the first couple dozen games, Washington was facing one of the league’s weaker schedules. That changes the rest of the way. It’s not brutal, but their average opponent is equivalent to a 42-win team over an 82-game schedule.

The Wizards’ postseason aspirations aren’t extinguished at this point, but it’s fair to say they’re in critical condition. If they want to make the playoffs, they need to play significantly better.