There are are two months until the playoffs begin and 29 games left for the Wizards to play before their regular season schedule runs out. A lot can happen between now and then, both good and bad. To assume they will earn a playoff spot is premature at this point, as easy as the postseason is for fans, media and players alike to dream about.
But there are also games over the course of a season that matter more than most, ones that invoke the big picture, no matter how they are described in the language of coach-speak. And Friday night was one of those games for the Wizards, a showdown with Indiana Pacers, the sixth-ranked team in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards currently sit third, meaning they would face the Pacers if the playoffs began today.
Even more important than that dynamic is the fact the conference itself is so bunched up. The Wizards are two games out of second, but the Pacers are only three games behind Washington. Tiebreakers could come into play in April and head-to-head season series records are at the top of the tiebreaker list.
After Friday night's 112-107 victory over the Pacers, the Wizards hold a 2-1 advantage in the season series with the finale coming up on Feb. 16. Was all of that lost on the Wizards? Of course not.
“It is super important. We take it seriously," shooting guard Bradley Beal said. "That is something that is in the back of our head. At this point of the year, you are looking at seeding. You are looking further down the line at playoffs, and where you want to be and what the match ups are going to be potentially so we just take it a game at a time, a series at a time, and try to get them all.”
"We came into this game talking about that, we knew it was going to be very important," point guard John Wall said. "It was a big win against them, but we have them again next week so its going to be a big game to try and win the whole series against them. They're a tough team, they're a great team at home. We just have to keep playing well and defending."
Center Marcin Gortat addressed the next matchup in more detail. The Wizards really want to take three of four and avoid a split in their four games against the Pacers. He knows the Pacers will have the playoffs on their mind.
"The hardest thing right now is that we're going to play against this team in a few days again and they are definitely come out ready to play. They're going to try to punch us back for what we did here at home. It's actually a really hard situation for us," Gortat said.
The Wizards hold a winning record against four of the seven other teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They are 2-1 against the Pacers, Hawks, Celtics and Bulls. They are 1-1 against the Pistons, 0-2 against Cleveland and 0-1 against Toronto.
The playoffs remain far off in the distance, but it's not too early to begin thinking about what could help the Wizards down the road.