How the Wizards can (or likely not) make the playoffs

How the Wizards can (or likely not) make the playoffs
February 13, 2013, 9:30 am
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Yes, this is indeed a post about the Wizards and the playoffs. About what is required for the local NBA team to participate in said NBA postseason (or even the chase) and about whether it's crazy to indulge in such speculation.

The basic answers are 1) tons of good fortune is required over the final 32 games and 2) yes, yes, yes on the crazy... but depending on what happens over the next 17 contests, perhaps not to the padded room level crazy.

Now, let's be very, very clear. Nobody here is suggesting fans should start blocking off calendar dates in late April, May and June even though Washington has improved dramatically since John Wall's return; 10-7 record, league-leader in defensive rating, sticking with a caring is sharing ball movement approach. It is however also undeniable that with their primary core rotation in place, these are not your 5-28 Wizards. So, in honor of Prince's appearance on the Grammy's, let's go crazy and talk Wizards and (insert Jim Mora voice here) playoffs....

*With Bradley Beal scoring more points (28) than any Wizard in any single game this season, Washington defeated Milwaukee 102-90 on Monday night for its fourth straight win. The victory snapped a four-game road skid and pulled the Wizards closer to the Bucks, the current occupiers of the eighth and final playoff berth.

Here comes the reality check. Despite the recent success, at 15-35 the Wizards are still 10 games out of the Eastern Conference's final playoff berth and 20 games under .500. The "what if Wizards" indeed.

Milwaukee, which closes out its first half Wednesday against Philadelphia, currently sports a 25-25 record. Simple math tells us the Bucks are tracking for 41 wins. The Wizards would have to close the season with a 26-6 record (81.25 winning percentage) for 41 total wins. Yeah, sure.

In the 17 games with Wall, they are at winning games at a 58.8 percent clip. Again, we're talking a steep, steep climb to/toward the playoffs, one that will require receiving help from others in the way of a noticeable losing streak.

*So, how do we get from the Wizards being way back to joining the truly playoff seeking pack?

Washington wraps up its pre-break play Wednesday at Detroit against the Pistons, one of the four teams situated between the locals and Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference standings. In what future scholars may describe as the low-point of the 2012-13 season, the Wizards lost back-to-back games to the suspect Pistons before Christmas by a combined 41 points.

If Beal and company can avenge those earlier losses, Washington enters the break on a five-game winning streak. The only NBA team with an equal or longer active streak, the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.

Then comes the five-day hiatus, and then comes the scheduling intrigue.

Starting with the Feb. 19 matchup against Toronto, Washington plays six of its first seven post-All Star break games at home. The Wizards have won eight of their last nine at the Verizon Center including a just completed three-game sweep over the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.

Three of the visiting teams - Nuggets, Rockets, Knicks - currently sport winning records. In addition to New York, Washington also defeated Denver since Wall's return.

The other matchups in that span - Pistons, 76ers and twice against the Raptors with one game in Toronto - are all against teams sub .500 teams currently ahead of the Wizards.

*After those initial seven games, the Wizards play in order: at Minnesota, at Brooklyn, Charlotte, at Cleveland, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Phoenix, at Charlotte, at Phoenix. Granted, winning on the road is certainly no gimme putt and Washington still owns the NBA's worst road record. However, if their current level of play is their true level - it's conceivable the Wizards ace this section as well.

To be on track for the unrealistic 26-6 mark, Washington, starting with Wednesday game, would need to go 14-3 over the next 17 games. Realistic, no, but again, the Wizards just went 10-7 and did so while:

- Wall and others worked (and continue doing so) their way back into game shape

- Beal sat out five games because of a sprained wrist

- essentially learning how to play with each other because not even during training camp did Randy Wittman have all of his primary players available at the same time.

Split the difference and say they go 12-5. That certainly would move them up a couple of slots in the standings if nothing else.

* Washington will need to rock the aforementioned part of the schedule because the closing stretch ramps up dramatically over the final 15 games with nine road contests. There are matchups against the Lakers and Warriors, which concludes a four-game trip, plus the Thunder, Celtics, Knicks, Nets and Bulls in the season finale.

Visits from likely playoff teams - Grizzlies, Heat, Bulls and Pacers - come during the final half dozen home games along with contests against the Raptors and 76ers.

Simply finishing with a record around .500 in this stretch might be a grand achievement for the 15-35 Wizards. For a team that hypothetically would have entered the final month of the season on a 22-12 tear, dream bigger. If Washington rocks the next 17 games, Wizards nation can start dreaming bigger as well - just not until then. Well, at least not don't go crazy with it.