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The Wizards still have a legitimate shot to make the 2021 NBA Playoffs’ play-in round

Thanks to an easier schedule and perhaps some injuries to other teams, the Wizards may be able to make the play-in games.

Utah Jazz v Washington Wizards
Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal are in good position to play postseason games.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Washington Wizards are 21-33, tied with the Toronto Raptors for the 11th seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, though effectively a game behind due to tiebreakers. They are just one game behind the Chicago Bulls (whom they also lost a tiebreaker against).

Given how SB Nation NBA Reacts polls have looked in recent weeks, it seems like the Wizards are playing like the worst team in the NBA. But if we take a more optimistic approach from a win-loss lens, Washington’s in decent shape to at least make the play-in.

Why the Wizards could make the play-in

In a nutshell, here’s why Washington could make the play-in round:

  • They are just one game behind the slumping Bulls — Chicago has lost four games in a row. The Wizards went 4-1 in their last five games. Momentum is on Washington’s side to finish ahead of Chicago (since a tie won’t be enough)
  • They have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the NBA — According to Tankathon, the Wizards have the 28th hardest schedule out of their remaining games. Their opponents have a combined win percentage of 46 percent, including three matches against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are 13th in the East and 1.5 games behind Washington. The Raptors and Bulls have the fifth and eight toughest schedules, respectively.
  • Their backcourt is healthy enough — Russell Westbrook is averaging 23.9 points, 12.3 assists and 12.2 rebounds per game since the All-Star Break while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and a more acceptable 31.9 percent from the three point line. Bradley Beal has continued to put up big numbers, though not as much as before the all star break (26.3 points and 4.9 assists per game). He missed several games due to a hip injury he suffered on Mar .27 but has since returned. They will have to both put up big numbers to lead Washington to more victories with this schedule.
  • Zach LaVine is out due to COVID-19 protocols — The Bulls guard is their primary scorer from the perimeter while Chicago is slumping. Not good for Chicago, which means it could be a positive for Washington.

Why the Wizards won’t make it

If there’s any reason why the Wizards won’t make the play-in, the biggest thing that sticks out to me is that their record vs. teams under .500 is 9-14, a win percentage of 39.1 percent. That’s virtually identical to their 12-19 (38.7 percent) record against teams with a record above .500. Washington has stepped up for marquee games while coming up short in others. Assuming this trend doesn’t change that much between now and the end of the season, they will probably finish outside of the Top-10.

Is it a bad thing if the Wizards somehow make the Round of 16?

I’m torn about this one because the Wizards can and need another young talent. A high draft pick won’t cure everything, but that player will certainly be a big help. However, I don’t fault players for trying their hardest to win games. But in short, I don’t think making the playoffs will be a bad thing for Washington, unless it’s also used as a rationale to keep the current coaching staff in place.