The NBA season has not reached the quarter pole. Nobody should be fixated on current standings. However, following Derrick Rose's season-ending surgery and both New York teams struggling for wins in the worst way, many are wondering which team is currently or will emerge eventually as the third best in the Eastern Conference behind the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.
If certain matchups play out as expected in an on-paper sort of way, then in terms of record, by Monday night the Washington Wizards will be the third best team in the East.
Washington, currently in fifth place at 8-9, hosts the Orlando Magic (6-10) on Monday night. After starting the season 3-3, the Magic have lost seven of 10.
That same evening, Atlanta (9-9) plays at San Antonio. Despite losing four of five games including Saturday against the Wizards, the Hawks are in third. Meanwhile, the Spurs (14-3) are co-leaders in the Western Conference.
(Sidebar - The Toronto Raptors sit in fourth place because they lead the brutally awful Atlantic Division. Division winners, even ones with awful records, receive privileges like an automatic top-4 seed)
With more than 60 regular season games remaining, third place on December 2 means squat, especially with a .500 record. Then again, the Wizards did much more than just tread water over the past weeks. Washington won six of eight games in a 12-day span and did so at times without Bradley Beal and Trevor Ariza, with Nene limping around before after games, with Al Harrington not playing a second.
Nobody expects this pace to continue. Nobody believes the Wizards or any other team in the East can truly challenge the Heat and Pacers in the playoffs.
Eh, so what. That talk is about the postseason and there are over four months until then. For now, the team is winning even without the high-scoring Beal or the veteran presence of Harrington. John Wall is scoring, dishing and making J's at a higher clip than previously. Martell Webster and Ariza are making 3's. The international beef brothers (a.k.a. Nene and Marcin Gortat) are starring on both ends of the court. Washington, Indiana and Miami are the only teams with winning records over its last 10 games.
Should the Wizards keep this going and should the Hawks do what most teams do in San Antonio - lose games - Washington takes over third place. Even if that means little more than saying Wall and company are the best of the rest, that's a far cry from sitting in the conference basement, an undesirable spot the team was in not so long ago.
By the way, should the Wizards lose to Orlando this post will self-destruct.