Three weeks after the Wizards signed Russell Westbrook back in December, Charles Barkley guaranteed Washington would make the playoffs this season. Five months later, the Hall of Famer isn’t backing down on that stance.
On TNT's Inside the NBA segment this week, ‘Sir Charles’ said that the Wizards are starting to look scary heading down the final stretch of the regular season. “None of those teams in the Eastern Conference want to see the Wizards with Russ and Bradley in the playoffs. They’re gonna win the play-in,” Barkley said. “I love Russ and Bradley Beal. To me, I’d pay to watch Russell Westbrook play basketball.”
His decree is not far-fetched, as Washington seems to have found its rhythm at the right time. Having won eight of their last nine games (including six straight), the Wizards currently sit at 25-33, 10th in the East. If they can hold on to that 10th spot, they will be the last team to qualify for the play-in tournament in which the teams ranked 7-10 in each conference play two games to determine playoff eligibility. The Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors are right on Washington’s heels, though, both sitting half a game behind.
Hugely important for the Wizards’ recent surge has been the arrival of Daniel Gafford. Coming from Chicago in a trade that shipped off Moe Wagner and Troy Brown Jr., Gafford has been crucial for Washington, especially on the defensive end of the floor. It’s been a while since the Wizards have had a tenacious defender and lob-catching threat down low, and Scott Brooks has praised the big man for his contributions thus far.
With Deni Avdija diagnosed with a right fibular hairline fracture that's expected to take 12 weeks to recover, the Wizards’ frontcourt will see rotation shifts in the remaining 14 games. Gafford, along with Rui Hachimura and Isaac Bonga, will hopefully provide Washington with the youth and energy it needs to push for a playoff berth.