Two years ago, the Wizards sat two games under .500 after the All-Star break. They returned to win 19 of their next 30 to make the playoffs for the first time in six years and stormed into the conference semifinals. Starting Thursday, the task is more steep as they near maximum health with the possible return of Alan Anderson while key teams in the East above them are limping to the finish line.
"It's very, very open. You go all the way up to Boston, then you have Atlanta. (Tiago) Splitter is out for the year," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of the Hawks' backup center. "There's been a lot of talk they'll do something between now and (Thursday). You got Chicago with some injury problems. Jimmy (Butler) is going to miss some time. There's some chatter there with them doing something. There's an opportunity there for us. We're getting to the point to where we're close to being as healthy as we've been all year. We're not there yet but we're close. Opportunity is there for us. What are we going to do with it? Dedicate for eight weeks and 31 games and see where we can take it."
As a 10th seed, the Wizards (23-28) are five in the loss column behind the No. 3 Boston Celtics and trailing the No. 4 Hawks by four in the loss column. They've also got the most games left to play (31) with three consecutive games starting tonight vs. the Utah Jazz (rescheduled because of a blizzard), Friday vs. the Detroit Pistons and Saturday at the Miami Heat.
Anderson (left ankle) practiced for the first time Wednesday and said he could be available to play. Otto Porter (right hip) needed the week off to let the tear in the cartilage calm his discomfort and Gary Neal (right leg) had to benefit as well. Time off only could help Nene (left calf) and Drew Gooden (right calf), both of whom have been available recently but missed time because of flare-ups. Bradley Beal (right leg/broken nose) could replenish as well as the recently returned Kris Humphries (right knee).
Wittman is going to have to decided who to deactivate come tip-off, with the best guesses being DeJuan Blair and Jarell Eddie provided that all 15 players are physically able to play.
"It's a good problem if you look at it as a problem. I don't look at it as that," Wittman said. "If I can get 15 guys healthy, Jiminy Christmas. ... Usually you got to pick a couple of guys to sit out. I haven't had to do that one time this year. I'm looking forward for that day. I'm going to walk in (the locker room) and be happy. They might not be happy. I'm going to be happy to go in there and say, 'You can't play today.'"
Most of the adjustments have to come from the defensive end, where the Wizards are the worst in the NBA at rebounding and defending the perimeter.
"Can we defend, get stops and rebound the ball? That's got to be our focus these last 31 games," Wittman said. "That's how this team wins when we win."