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Paul Pierce says Wizards are 'climbing Mount Everest' for a playoff spot in Orlando

Paul Pierce says Wizards are 'climbing Mount Everest' for a playoff spot in Orlando

When the NBA resumes its season in a month in Orlando, the Wizards find themselves six games behind the Magic for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

However, with the league's modified season, the Wizards only have to make up two games on the Magic in order to force a play-in tournament for the final position. The Brooklyn Nets, who currently sit seventh in the conference, are just a half-game ahead of the Magic and 6.5 games ahead of the Wizards.

So, for Wizards fans, there's some hope. But former Wizards wing Paul Pierce advises Washington fans to keep that hope to a minimum. On Tuesday's episode of The Jump, host Rachel Nichols asked Pierce whether he thought the Wizards had a chance to make a playoff push, and the forward had little optimism for his former team.

"I don't think so," Pierce said on the if the Wizards can get the eighth seed. "Barring the circumstances, no John Wall, no [Davis] Bertans, the Wizards are climbing Mount Everest."

Several players, including the sharpshooting Bertans, have chosen to opt-out of the restart for a number of reasons. But perhaps no team has faced the burden of having their players choose to forgo the remainder of the season more than the Nets, a team the Wizards are directly competing with for that final spot.

The Nets were already without their two superstars; both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will not play in Orlando due to injury. On Monday, another starter, center DeAndre Jordan, announced he additionally would not be traveling to Orlando after testing positive for COVID-19. Spencer Dinwiddie, a 20-point scorer this season, also tested positive for the virus and his status for the season is in doubt.

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With the Nets missing a majority of their best players, the door for the Wizards to make up ground on Brooklyn appears to be wide open. But without Bertans and Wall, who Wizards GM Tommy Sheppard confirmed earlier this week would not be traveling to Orlando, Pierce thinks the Wizards lack enough star power themselves to truly make a run at the final postseason spot.

"[The Wizards] are in an evaluation period themselves," Pierce said. "Bradley Beal, he's going to go out there and put up big numbers. But to be six games out, I know they have to be within four, only eight games to play, I think they're climbing Mount Everest. It's an evaluation period."

RELATED: PLAYERS WHO AREN'T PARTICIPATING IN NBA RESTART

Pierce isn't the only one who feels this way about Washington, either. On Monday, ESPN host Stephen A. Smith was asked whether he thought the Wizards should be included in the restart. His answer? "Hell no."

However, one analyst does believe the Wizards have a shot. After Pierce finished saying why he believes the Wizards don't have a chance, ESPN analyst Brian Windhorst explained why he feels the opposite.

"I think the Wizards got a shot here," Windhorst said. "These two teams play each other the second game. The Nets come out and play the team directly behind them, Orlando, first and then Washington second. If they split those games or they win them both, I think Bradley Beal could be looking at taking some time off. But if they lose those games and they beat the Nets and maybe get in their head that they could beat them in a play-in series, I think it gets interesting."

The odds may be stacked against the Wizards, but you never know what can happen. The games aren't played on paper for a reason.

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Why Thomas Bryant's defensive showing against Joel Embiid could speak volumes for Wizards' future

Why Thomas Bryant's defensive showing against Joel Embiid could speak volumes for Wizards' future

The Wizards, as they are expected to be constructed next season, should be uniquely good on the offensive end. They could have Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans (if he re-signs), two of the game's most lethal shooters, spreading the floor. Rui Hachimura has the potential to be elite in the midrange and Thomas Bryant is one of the league's most efficient scorers around the rim.

Then, you have John Wall distributing the ball. There are three levels of offense and the Wizards could have all of them covered with a generational passer setting everyone up. That has the potential to be the type of offense with very little, if any, weaknesses. 

But the defensive end could be a completely different story. None of the aforementioned players are elite defenders and the Wizards posted the worst defensive rating in the NBA this season at 115.6.

That's what made a particular development in the Wizards' loss to the Sixers on Wednesday encouraging. Bryant more than held his own against Joel Embiid, one of the NBA's best offensive centers and arguably the league's most imposing physical force. 

Bryant held Embiid to 3-for-11 shooting while The Process went 8-for-11 against his teammates. Bryant had 19 total contested shots in the game and held his match-ups to 33.3 percent shooting overall. He blocked four shots, which tied a career-high.

"It was his best defensive game I've ever seen him play," head coach Scott Brooks said. "He was aware, he was anticipating, his hands were up and he jumped. If you just do those things, you give yourself a chance for a defensive stop at the rim. I thought tonight he was outstanding pretty much on both ends."

Bryant has some physical tools that lend themselves to the defensive end. He's one of the fastest centers up and down the floor in the NBA. And he has a 7-foot-6 wingspan. Of all players drafted since 2013, only five players have registered bigger wingspans at the combine: Mo Bamba, Bol Bol, Tacko Fall, Zhou Qi and Ike Anigbogu.

Bryant knows his potential on that end of the floor and how he hasn't really come close to reaching his full ceiling in the NBA. When told of Brooks' praise, he downplayed it as just one game.

"It's a step in the right direction. Keep improving every day, that's my main thing, especially on the defensive end," Bryant said.

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Consistency will be key. In the Wizards' previous game against the Pacers, Myles Turner went 5-for-5 while guarded by Bryant. In the team's season opener, DeAndre Ayton went 3-for-5 against him.

But if Bryant can establish some stability on that end, it could solve a lot of problems for the Wizards. Rim protector is again going to be a big priority for them this offseason, as it has essentially been annually. Finding solutions in that area is just very difficult to do. 

Teams that have good shot-blockers don't let them go and when they leave in free agency, they are expensive. If you draft rim protectors, they often take time to develop.

The Wizards, though, arguably need one now more than ever before. They are about to reinsert Wall into the lineup with a surgically repaired Achilles. As much as people have focused on his offense and how his speed could be affected, the defensive end should be the biggest concern.

The injury notoriously affects lateral movement and Wall will have to stay in front of NBA point guards, who are some of the quickest athletes in the world. Defensive structure around him could help compensate and a rim protector would provide a security blanket behind him.

Bryant has a long way to go to fill that void, and he knows it. But Wednesday was, like he said, a step in the right direction.

NBA.com advanced stats were used as part of this research

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Wizards' losing has created bizarre situation in NBA standings, lottery odds

Wizards' losing has created bizarre situation in NBA standings, lottery odds

The NBA only taking 22 teams to Orlando for its restart had the potential for some really strange things to shake out in the standings and now that the Wizards have started out 0-4, those possibilities are being realized.

Just look at the East right now. The Wizards are technically not eliminated from the playoffs, yet they have a worse record than the Charlotte Hornets, who are eliminated from postseason contention.


ESPN.com

Notice the 'e's.' When else would you see something like that? Maybe in college football, if a team loses postseason eligibility, but continues on playing games. 

Those standings, though, are just an odd element of some extraordinary circumstances as the NBA did what it could to resume playing basketball. Things could get much more real when it comes to the draft lottery.

By losing to the Sixers on Wednesday, the Wizards dropped below the Hornets in terms of win percentage, as you see above. Washington now has the eighth-worst record in the NBA.

RELATED: 5 TAKEAWAYS FROM WIZ-SIXERS

But because the league changed the lottery rules for the restart, the Wizards would have the ninth-best lottery odds if the season ended today. The bottom eight teams, including Charlotte, are cemented in where they stood when the league shut down on March 11.

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What that would mean if it holds up is a strange situation on lottery night. The Wizards could have fewer ping pong balls than a team that has a better record than them. They could even slide past the Bulls if they keep losing and have worse odds than two teams with better records than theirs.

On lottery night, it will be the difference of a few percentage points, which on the face of it might not seem all that important. Here is how the odds break down for the No. 7 through 9 teams:

7th-best odds - 7.5 % chance at No. 1 pick, 31.9 % chance at top-4
8th-best odds - 6.0 % chance at No. 1 pick, 26.2 % chance at top-4
9th-best odds - 4.5 % chance at No. 1 pick, 20.2 % chance at top-4

As you see there, the Wizards would only be missing out on either 1.5% or 3.0% in terms of odds to get the No. 1 pick. But when you add the percentages up for the top-four selections, their odds are affected by as much as 11.7 percent. That is fairly substantial.

The thing is, however, it could work both ways. The Wizards could be hurt by the lottery odds, but still end up getting lucky by staying at ninth. The ninth spot in the lottery could yield them a really high draft pick and therefore make Chicago or Charlotte wish the rules were different.

But just consider how things went in last year's draft lottery, the first under the new system of rules. The No. 1 pick went to the team that had the seventh-best odds, the New Orleans Pelicans. The No. 2 pick went to the team with the eighth-best odds, the Memphis Grizzlies. And the team with the ninth-best odds, the Atlanta Hawks, fell a spot to land at No. 10.

The No. 1 pick was Zion Williamson, the No. 2 pick was Ja Morant and the No. 10 pick was Cam Reddish. That is a huge difference.

If the same class was available this year, and the lottery shook out the same way, the Wizards would pick 10th and come away feeling like they got robbed of Williamson or Morant, both of whom appear to be generational players. That would be a stroke of bad luck that would take years, if not decades, to get over.

This draft does not seem to have that type of talent at the top, depending on how you feel about guys like James Wiseman, Anthony Edwards and LaMelo Ball. But it's still an NBA draft and every year there are future All-Stars available. Most years there are future Hall of Famers to be had.

All of this may not matter much, or it could matter a lot. In the most extreme scenario, it could legitimately have a major effect on the future course of the league.

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