Losing to the Suns dinged the Wizards' playoff hopes significantly if you consider that was the worst opponent on their schedule, which thanks to the NBA's 22-team restart is going to get significantly more difficult very soon. But the good news is that on Sunday they will have an opportunity to gain some ground in the Eastern Conference race with their best chance to directly help their cause.
They will see the Brooklyn Nets (2 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington), who are eighth in the East. The Wizards are right behind them in ninth, now six games back after arriving in Orlando with a 5 1/2 game deficit. This will be, in fact, their only game against a team within striking range of them in the playoff race.
If the Wizards win, they will be within five games of the eighth-seed. They need to get within four to force the play-in tournament, which would require them to beat the No. 8 team twice without losing to reach the playoffs.
Due to their loss against Phoenix, you could view this one as a must-win if they have any real hope of qualifying for the play-in tournament. If they lose to Brooklyn, they will be seven games back and the road will then become quite steep. A seven-game gap would require the Wizards to win three more games than the Nets in the final six for both teams.
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Basically, if they lose to Brooklyn the Wizards would have to at a minimum go 3-3 and then only qualify if the Nets went 0-6, or if the Magic went 0-7. If they lose Sunday, for another example, they would have to go 4-2 if Brooklyn goes 1-5 the rest of the way.
The problem is that the Wizards are going to see a gauntlet of opponents very soon. After the Nets, five of their final six games are against teams with top-six seeds in their respective conferences. All of those five teams - the Pacers, Sixers, Thunder, Bucks and Celtics - are at least 13 games above .500. The sixth team, the Pelicans, would be no easy out, either.
There is no question a lot is riding on this game for the Wizards. But it is a winnable match-up with the Nets missing much of their roster including Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince and, of course, Kevin Durant.
Like the Wizards, the Nets lost their first game of the restart. They played the Magic, who leaped them for seventh in the conference with a 10-point win. Brooklyn scored 39 points in the first quarter and outscored Orlando 36-17, but fell short.
Though what happened earlier this season doesn't apply perfectly to these games, the Wizards are 2-0 against Brooklyn this season, having won both games in D.C. Now the two teams will square off with stripped-down rosters, with the Wizards missing Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans.
Now the Wizards' young core will have to take care of business with plenty on the line.
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