Last week was a frustrating one for Wizards fans. Just when it seemed the team was building momentum for a push at claiming the No. 8 seed, it predictably laid two duds with losses to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers and injury-riddled Chicago Bulls.
The good news is the Wizards fell back by just half a game in the conference standings. The bad news is the schedule gets much more difficult. To gain ground, the Wizards needed those wins over bad teams. Now, they’ll need to beat good teams and overcome two-time MVP Stephen Curry’s potential return to the court to keep up.
Here’s what we’re looking forward to this week from the Wizards and other teams around the Association.
Standings: 9th in Eastern Conference (3.5 GB Orlando Magic)
- Monday vs. Bucks (48-8), 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington
- Wednesday vs. Nets (26-29), 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington
- Friday at Jazz (36-20), 9 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington
- Sunday at Warriors (12-45), 8:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington
Washington begins the week on the second night of a back-to-back against the best team in the NBA. The Wizards are 12 ½-point underdogs against the Milwaukee Bucks for a reason, as this is a game absolutely no one expects them to win. It also happens to be a preview of the Wizards’ first-round playoff matchup if they’re able to squeak into the eighth seed.
Giannis Antetokounmpo sat out with a shoulder injury the last time these teams played, but Khris Middleton picked up the slack with a career-high 51 points in a 20-point win. Bradley Beal had one of his many 40-point performances of the season that night but like last Sunday’s loss to the Bulls, it wasn’t enough. The Wizards are now 1-7 when he scores 40 this year.
Next, the Wizards host a Brooklyn Nets team a lot closer in the standings (No. 7 -- 6.5 games ahead of Wizards) but also playing really well. The Nets are 7-3 in their last 10 despite the absence of Kyrie Irving who is out the rest of the season with his own shoulder issue. The good news for the Wizards is they beat this team in their last matchup, which also happened to be the last time Irving played.
The Wizards head West on Friday to play the Utah Jazz, who are presently dealing with their own inconsistencies. Utah began the month with a five-game losing streak followed by a four-game winning streak, and it is now coming off of two straight losses. Still one of the NBA’s better teams, led by All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert with a great supporting cast, expect the Jazz to give the Wizards everything they can handle.
Finally, the Wizards close the week against the Golden State Warriors in what could be Stephen Curry’s first game since breaking his hand in October. Over the weekend, Curry said he’s targeting a March 1 return. The Warriors might have the worst record in the NBA, but they’re obviously a different team with one of the league’s best players back in the lineup. Also, Beal can break Walt Bellamy's team record of 17 straight games with at least 25 points if he keeps his current streak of 14 going into this game.
Monday: Grizzlies at Clippers, 10:30 p.m. on NBA TV
Ja Morant’s Grizzlies have struggled of late and are at risk of falling below .500 for the first time since January. Playing a team with two of the league’s best players -- Kawhi Leonard and Paul George -- may not be the remedy, but then again the Clippers have lost three straight. Expect two teams desperate for a win to put on a fun battle.
Tuesday: Bucks at Raptors, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
The storylines are endless here: The Eastern Conference’s top two seeds, a potential Eastern Conference Finals preview, a rematch of last year’s ECF -- minus Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmp vs. Pascal Siakam. What more do you need to know?
Wednesday: Celtics at Jazz, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN
It’ll be the second night of a back-to-back in the middle of a road swing for the Celtics, but if they want people to believe they’re one of the league’s elites, this is a chance to add to the resume. Also, Jayson Tatum has been incredible lately and alone is worth tuning in.
Thursday: Trail Blazers at Pacers, 8 p.m. on TNT
The Trail Blazers, like the Wizards, can’t seem to close the small gap between them and the 8th seed in their conference. Still, they’re just three games back of the Grizzlies and by Thursday night, Damian Lillard could be back in the lineup. Lillard only expected to miss three or four games after the All-Star Break and this game would be the fourth. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo is dealing with a back injury, but early indications are it won’t be hampering him still by the time this game rolls around.
Friday: Thunder at Bucks, 8 p.m. on ESPN
Did you know the Thunder are in sixth place in the Western Conference? What was supposed to be a rebuild year after trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook has turned into a sneaky good team. This will be OKC's second game against the league’s best team this season. Chris Paul's squad lost by just two the first time around.
Saturday: Rockets at Celtics, 8:30 p.m. on ABC
One week after the Celtics dueled with the rival Lakers on national television, they get another one of the West’s bests. This time it’s the Rockets and the league’s best scorer James Harden (35.2 points per game), as two of the league’s best offenses clash. The Rockets play a uniquely small brand of basketball worth seeing against a Celtics team that usually has to prepare for the size of the East’s best.
Sunday: 76ers at Clippers, 3:30 p.m. on ABC
Besides a loss to the Bucks over the weekend, the 76ers have played well as of late. But of their last three wins, only one came over a team with a winning record. That win was at home against the Clippers on Feb. 11. Now, they travel to Los Angeles to see if they can take that act on the road against a determined LA squad.
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