The walls are closing in on two well-known regular season goals of the 2016-17 Wizards. With their loss to the Heat on Saturday night, combined with the Boston Celtics' win over the Charlotte Hornets, both reaching 50 wins and securing a top three seed in the East will not be easy for Washington.
Getting to 50 wins is something John Wall, Bradley Beal and others have signified this year as an important step in the Wizards' rise as a franchise. Washington hasn't had a 50-win season in 38 years, the longest drought in the NBA. But now in order to get there they will need to win out and beat both the Pistons and Heat on the road to close their season.
The players have talked more about winning 50 than where they end up in playoff seeding, but the latter is more important at this juncture. With Saturday night's results, the Wizards have essentially backed themselves into a corner in the fourth spot. The Celtics have clinched at least a top three seed and in order for the Wizards to take the third spot from the Raptors, they will have to win out and have Toronto lose each of their last two games. The Wizards are just one game back, but would have to finish with a better record than the Raptors to overcome the head-to-head series tiebreaker.
Not much will be affected in the short-term by the Wizards landing in the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference, rather than the third. There is not much separating their potential first round opponents. But that small difference could loom large down the road, if the standings hold as they are currently.
The Wizards, if they are fortunate enough to advance a round in the playoffs, would now likely face the defending-champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round. That makes their quest to make the Eastern Conference Finals - another stated goal by Wall and others - much more difficult. The Cavs have been to each of the last two NBA Finals and boast the best player in basketball. No one wants to see them earlier than they have to.
A year that ends with the Wizards losing to the Cavaliers, or another team, in the Eastern Conference Finals would be a success by many measures. It would be their best season since 1978-79. Losing in the second round, where they have been two of the last three years, would probably end in debates about whether that was good enough.
The way things have shaken out in the standings brings up the question of whether the Wizards will adjust their priorities heading into these final two games. Does essentially being locked into the fourth spot give them the opportunity to rest Wall, Beal or others in anticipation of the playoffs?
Wall and head coach Scott Brooks have spoken out against NBA players resting without injury, but the Wizards could find themselves in a situation where it makes perfect sense to give their stars a night off. What if they reach the final game against Miami on Wednesday and have nothing at all to play for?
The Wizards know they will be in the playoffs, but their loss and the Celtics' win have quickly shifted the dynamic. Now the goals may be different for the Wizards, who have to keep an eye on the bigger picture with the playoffs set to begin.