The Wizards will be playing postseason basketball for the first time in five seasons, after adding key pieces and developing their young stars. They have a young exciting team, can they make any noise in the playoffs?
The Story So Far
On the back of the development of their young stars and the addition of another experienced big man, the Washington Wizards will be making their first playoff appearance since the 2008-09 season this year.
Currently sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards (43-38) have a one-game lead over the seventh placed Charlotte Bobcats (42-39). Each team has one game left to play in the regular season.
The equation is simple for Washington – if they win their final game against the Boston Celtics, then they clinch the sixth seed. However, if the Wizards lose, and Charlotte takes down the Chicago Bulls in their last game, then Washington falls to seventh place.
Much of the Wizard’s emergence can be attributed to the improved play of former first overall pick John Wall. In his fourth season, Wall increased his production and delivered career-highs in points (19.4, 20th in the league), assists (8.8, tied second) – he also leads the league in total assists with 712 for the year – and steals per game (1.8, tied sixth). The former Kentucky Wildcat is also shooting a career-best 35.1% from three – up from 24.3% over his first three seasons – and 80.5% from the free throw line.
Likewise, fellow top-three draft pick Bradley Beal continued to develop his game, improving his numbers across the board in his sophomore season. The former Florida Gator increasing his numbers to 17.0 points (up from 13.9 last season), 3.3 assists (2.4) and 1.0 steals per game (0.9). He also improved his efficiency from the field, upping his percentages to 41.5% from the field (41.0 last season) and 39.9% from deep (38.6%).
The addition of Marcin Gortat, who came across from Phoenix in a trade before the season, has also given Washington another legitimate post presence. The Polish Hammer proved to be an excellent complimentary scorer throughout the regular season (13.2 points per game on 54.2% field goals) and led the Wizards in rebounds (9.5) and blocks per game (1.5).
Meanwhile, Trevor Ariza thrived in his permanent starting role, averaging 14.4 points (45.5% FG and 41.2% 3FG), 6.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
The Wizard’s have clearly improved – they went 29-53 last season and 20-46 the season before – but they aren’t quite a force in the East just yet. It took Washington until Feb. 3 to push their record above .500 for the first time in over four years. And even then, they reached .500 five times earlier in the season and swiftly fellow below again after losing their next game – they also fell below positive only two games after reaching the milestone and took eight more games to regain an above .500 record.
They’ve had five streaks of at least three consecutive wins, including six straight in late February, but have also lost three in a row five times during the year.
The biggest point to take away being that Washington is an improved and exciting group, but lack the consistency to be a major hitter in the postseason.
Postseason Performer to Watch
He might not be a household name, but Nenê is one of the most important keys to the Wizards success.
Since joining Washington from Denver in the 2011-12 season, the big Brazilian has been a great barometer for the Wizards success.
With Nenê in the lineup, Washington is 62-62. Without him, they are 27-45.
So while his numbers may not jump off the page at you – 14.3 points (50.0% FG), 5.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.9 blocks per game this season – he is an invaluable glue guy for Washington.
Unfortunately, injury issues have meant Nenê has missed large chunks of much of his career. This season, he injured his MCL against the Cavaliers on Feb. 23 and missed 21 games, returning with only four games of the regular season left.
The Wizards will need their Brazilian big man to be fully fit if they hope to advance past the first round.
If Washington take care of Boston in their final game and secure the sixth seed, they will face the Toronto Raptors in the first round.
They went 1-3 against the Canadians during the regular season, but do matchup well against them.
Wall, Beal and Ariza give them the athleticism to match it with the likes of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross.
Meanwhile, the Wizards are an underrated defensive unit – currently 10th in points allowed (99.4) and eights in defensive efficiency (104.6) – and are the sixth best team at defending the three-point line, which could help sway the series against a long bomb-happy Raps team – currently ninth in makes (704) and sixth in percentage (37.3).
Both teams lack postseason experience – Washington last made it in 2008-9 and Toronto in 07-08 – so that at least is a level playing field.
Gortat and Nene will be pivotal against Toronto’s gritty frontcourt of Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson. Both must play well for Washington to advance.
A Wizards Raptors series will be one of the more entertaining first round matchups. Both teams are athletic, push the pace and score freely. This is Washington’s best bet to advance, but it won’t come easily and they wont enter the series as favourites.
Meanwhile, if Charlotte leapfrogs them in the standings, expect an early elimination at the hands of the Miami Heat.
Check out our Playoff Picture archives here.