It’s been a long journey back, but finally, after seven long miserable years of basketball in Washington, the Wizards have ended their drought and have earned a spot in this year’s NBA playoffs.
But despite a laughable Eastern Conference when compared to its Western counterpart, the Wizards will still be thrown into a first-round brawl in hopes of overcoming their routine playoff result.
Currently sitting as the sixth seed with seven games to go, we can narrow down Washington’s potential opponents and gauge who would be their toughest first-round matchup, and who would serve as the best entry test in the Wizards’ attempt to conquer their typical postseason floppage. Let's take a look.
The Toughest: Indiana Pacers
Although the Pacers are currently reeling offensively (feast your eyes on this excellent read from Bryan Mears), the Wizards have struggled mightily against Indiana this season. Washington would little to no chance of conquering anything if they meet the Pacers in the round one.
While there’s some assurance in the Wizards’ above-average defense handling a strained Pacers offense that ranks a surprising 22nd in the NBA, it’s Indiana’s efficiency and intensity on defense that has proven to be a hedge for Washington this season.
Sure the Pacers league-best defense has caused fits for plenty of teams this season, but they’ve been downright stifling in their games against the Wizards, allowing an average of just 76.6 points in three games.
The idea of catching a team on their heels (in this case, offensively) is a nice thought, but the Pacers would be Washington’s worst possible draw. In order to avoid any chance of facing the Pacers in the first round, the Wizards need to handle business and win some games to close the season.
Despite going just 10-8 in the month of March, the Miami Heat remain an extremely difficult first-round matchup for Washington.
If the Heat can hold off the Indiana Pacers for first place in the East, the Wizards aren’t likely to end their season on a seven-game losing streak, which would likely make them an eight seed. Fortunately, there appears to be a decent chance John Wall and the Wiz don’t draw the reigning world champions to start the playoffs.
However, if the Pacers somehow get on track offensively to end the season, and the Wizards struggle to finish down the stretch, Washington could drop and wind up meeting a two-seed Miami squad.
The Wizards are 1-2 against the Heat this season, with one last game against each other on April 14. But in their three contests so far, the Wizards have guarded Miami well, allowing 99.6 points per game to a Heat team with the league’s third-highest offensive rating (111.4).
We all know the Heat’s ability on offense, but the Wizards can defend when they want to. If the Wizards can put together enough decent scoring runs in a playoff series, they’d have a slim chance to knock off a juggernaut in the first round.
If we were ranking these teams by way of nERD, the Bulls (52.9) would actually be the Wizards’ second-best first-round option. But based strictly off matchups, a tough Chicago team wouldn’t be a friendly welcome to the playoffs for the Wizards following a seven-year hiatus.
The Bulls will visit Washington this Saturday to play their third and final game against the Wizards. And for the year, Washington is 2-0 against Chicago. But it’s the stuff outside of the boxscore that could shake the Wizards in this matchup.
Although veterans on the roster can preach toughness and prep the Wiz kids for what playoff action can be like, guys like John Wall and head coach Randy Wittman are feeling some pressure, despite their successes so far.
Based purely off numbers, the Wizards can defend the Bulls and likely hold their own. But a combination of Chicago’s suffocating defense (100.5) and gritty style would make for a tough psychological and emotional clash to tipoff the postseason.
The Raptors seemed to have had the Wizards’ number in the regular season, going 3-1 against Washington and averaging over 107 points per game (which does include a 129-point outing in a three-overtime game).
As a top team in both offensive (108) and defensive efficiency (104.7), the Raptors are no slouch. But due to a lack of playoff experience and the Wizards’ own ability to play good defense, Washington has a decent shot of seeing the second round if they’re asked to go through Toronto first.
Best Case: Brooklyn Nets
No playoff matchup will be an easy one for the Wizards, but landing the Brooklyn Nets might be their best chance past the first round.
Clearly a team with both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce would go directly against the theory regarding a team with playoff experience and veteran leadership, but the Wizards have found success against the Nets this season to the tune of three wins in three contests and 108.6 points per game.
While the Nets and Wizards are similar in a few statistical categories, Washington draws favorable advantages by way of speed, athleticism, rebounding and three-point shooting. They’d fare best with a first-round battle against Brooklyn.