Here's the good news: The Wizards remain firmly in the race for a playoff berth and can still dream about homecourt advantage in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Here's the other news: The East is no longer a joke, which means Washington must starting winning games at a much higher clip over the 52 games for either of those things to occur.
On Dec. 5 and with the Wizards at 8-9, I wrote the following about their last weeks of 2015:
In terms of the playoffs, things could get late early depending on how the Wizards handle their final 13 games of 2015. They could also vault into the ranks of conference title contenders.
The last of those matchups took place Wednesday in Toronto where Washington lost 94-91, sending John Wall and crew into the New Year on a two-game skid. The loss also was the difference between finishing over or under .500 in this randomly chosen stretch. Though the peaks (4-game winning streak) and valleys (1-3 road trip) were severe, the net result was a middling 6-7, dropping the Wizards to 14-16.
Record is certainly important, but all relative to other competitors.
From Dec. 5:
The Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics currently occupy the final two playoff spots at 11-8. There are three teams between Orlando/Boston and Washington. There are only two teams between the Wizards and the 1-19 Philadelphia 76ers. At the same point, Washington is only four games behind the East-leading Cavaliers.
On Dec. 31, Washington is 11th in the East. That's up one spot in the standings with essentially the same winning percentage (.467). The Wizards are three games behind the Celtics (18-14) for the final playoff berth, 2.5 games behind the Hornets (17-14) and two games back of the Pistons (17-15).
Essentially, the Wizards held ground with the teams directly in front of them. Now, remember injuries essentially limited coach Randy Wittman to a seven-man rotation some nights. Bradley Beal missed the last 10 games. Otto Porter, Gary Neal, Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair all watched games at times in street clothes. Nene and Drew Gooden didn't play at all. All but three of those opponents are also in the playoff mix. Holding ground with that scenario goes in the win column.
The Celtics, one-half game behind the Heat and Pacers (18-13), remain in the eighth spot despite Wednesday's home loss to the Lakers as the crowd roared for Kobe Bryant's last appearance in the building. (Sound familiar?).
However, the gap with teams at the top widened. Previously, the Wizards trailed the league-leader by four games. Now the Cavaliers (21-9) lead the East with a two-game lead over the Hawks and a full seven games over the Wizards.
Obviously the first goal is securing a playoff berth, but good luck getting out of the first round as the eighth seed against LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. It only took 38 wins for a playoff slot last year and 40 for the seventh seed. Those totals won't cut it this season in the much improved conference.
Boston's pace sets up for 46 wins while Miami, the current seventh seed, projects just shy of 48. For 48 wins, the Wizards must finish 34-18 over the final 52 games.
Whether sincere or just a dream, any hopes of contending for the East title likely faded after the slow start. Finishing as one of the top four seeds for homecourt advantage in the opening round of the playoff always seemed like the most attainable goal. With 52 games remaining, the goal remains in play, but dicey.
Washington trails the fourth-place Bulls (18-12) and the fifth-place Magic (19-13). Orlando visits Chinatown New Year's Day.
Last season Toronto claimed the fourth seed with 49 wins and current season Chicago is essentially on that same trajectory. For 49 wins, the Wizards must finish 35-17.
All this sets up the next big stretch, otherwise known as January. Of Washington's 16 games during the month, 11 are at home. Even though the current Verizon Center record (7-8) isn't impressive, the month sets up nicely for a team looking for some momentum. In addition, 11 games are against Eastern Conference teams ahead of Washington in the standings.
That also means 21 of the final 36 games will take place away from Chinatown, including 7 of the last 10.
The Wizards must thrive in January for a realistic shot at a top-4 seed. If they only survive, then the focus of simply reaching the playoffs for a third straight year becomes the main story.