As is my modus operandi, I crunched a bunch of numbers trying to figure out who’s going to win tonight’s play-in game between the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics, and I’ve come away with the conclusion that the Wizards have an excellent chance of winning the 7th seed and advancing to a first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets.
There’s no need to bore you with all the mathy stuff because the analysis is all saying the same thing: the Celtics started better but have struggled the past three weeks, while the Wizards had a terrible start but have been downright terrific the past six weeks.
Some mathy stuff: over the past 24 games, the Wizards have a net rating offensive rating minus defensive rating of +5.3 points per 100 possessions. Here’s the full list of teams this season that had a better net rating:
- Utah Jazz +9.3
- Los Angeles Clippers +6.4
- Phoenix Suns +5.9
- Milwaukee Bucks +5.8
- Philadelphia 76ers +5.6
That’s it, that’s the list. The Denver Nuggets are next at +5.0, followed by the Brooklyn Nets at +4.5. For six weeks, the Wizards have been actually good. If they’d played at that level all season, they’d be discussed as a threat to emerge from the East.
Over the same span, the Celtics have been +2.6, which is pretty good. Stir in homecourt advantage, and the game would basically be a 50/50 proposition.
Except, Boston’s last 24 games came in two distinct segments. In the first 12 games, their net rating was +6.9. In their last 12: -1.6. The Celtics limp into the play-in having lost 5 of their last 6 and missing All-Star Jaylen Brown, who’s also their second best player.
Of course, the Wizards are limping in, as well. Bradley Beal may be gimpy, but he’ll play. And, Washington has been getting quality production in the middle, which has been an area of weakness for Boston.
Plus, there’s this: when these two teams take the floor, the Wizards will be in a rare position in franchise history: in Russell Westbrook, they’ll have the best player on the floor. With no disrespect to Jayson Tatum, based on his performance over the past 6-8 weeks, in a stakes game, bet on Westbrook.
It’s a single game, so of course anything can happen. My best back-of-the-spreadsheet calculation gives the Wizards about a 60% chance of winning. Not an overwhelming favorite, but enough to say they’re in a strong position to earn a trip to the postseason.
Make your pick in the c