The 2019 NBA All-Star weekend is in the books. Now, where were we?
Ah, right, the Wizards in pursuit of an Eastern Conference playoff berth. Washington returns to practice Wednesday and to game action Friday at Charlotte. Before all that, a quick reset and look ahead.
Yes, things were bumpy before the weeklong break – Washington lost its final two games and seven of 10 to match a season-worst record 10 games under .500. Fortunately, the Wizards (24-34) play in the Eastern Conference which means those postseason hopes remain within arm’s reach (though having Giannis Antetokounmpo’s cartoonish wingspan would help).
Sitting in 11th place, the Wizards must pass three teams to reach the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. Five teams – Charlotte, Detroit, Miami, Orlando, and Washington – are effectively vying for the final two playoffs spots. The Wizards are 2.5 games back of the Magic, which entered the break winning five in a row, three behind eighth-seeded Pistons, and trail the Hornets by 3.5.
Based on projections from the research website Basketball-Reference, the Magic and Pistons seize the final two berths with 38 wins. For 39 wins, the Wizards must finish 15-9 over their last 24 games. That would become their best stretch of the season considering Washington’s longest winning streak of the season is only three.
Good news: The Wizards have the sixth easiest remaining strength of schedule.
Related news: The Magic has the third easiest, Pistons seventh.
Potentially uh-oh news: Washington, a dismal 7-23 on the road this season, returns with three of four games away from home.
That’s a lot working against the Wizards. There is where it would be cool to show a stat that provides additional confidence. That’s not happening. There won’t be numbers reflecting downside either beyond the current slide.
That’s because with John Wall undergoing season-ending Achilles heel surgery, Otto Porter and Markieff Morris playing elsewhere, and several new players on the roster, season-long statistics no longer apply.
Consider the Wizards’ current nine-man rotation based on recent usage. Of those nine, only two-time All-Star Bradley Beal remains in the same role as when the season began.
Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant moved up the depth chart because of injuries elsewhere. That’s somewhat the case with Jeff Green, though only Beal could rival the veteran’s forward consistency this season. Chasson Randle, now the primary backup point guard, bounced back and forth between the NBA and the G-League for chunks of the season.
The others – Trevor Ariza, Jabari Parker, Wesley Johnson, and Bobby Portis – were not on the team for the opening six weeks of the season. The non-Ariza’s arrived less than two weeks ago. This is effectively a new team, which adds additional challenges for Brooks.
The unknown is perhaps also Washington’s best hope.
We could assume plenty, namely that this core is less talented than the one that included Wall, Porter, and Morris. Of course, that group struggled significantly when the season tipped, losing six of seven.
Meanwhile, the Wizards’ record since Dec. 28 is just a tick underwater (11-12), which isn’t bad when considering the overall record and recent stumbles. Yes, we just explained that many of the current players are new. The enhanced focus and consistency displayed during this stretch should remain with Beal, Ariza, and Green in primary roles.
We can also note the Wizards are 2-2 in the four games since the pre-deadline deals that brought Portis, Parker, and Johnson to Washington. The last two games, both losses, were without Satoransky, who was away from the team for the birth of his first child. His absence led to several quirky lineups as Brooks tried making do without his lone proven point guard.
There’s also the notion of the Wizards receiving a more extended look at Portis, a 2019 restricted free agent and possible starting power forward of the future. Portis is averaging 19 points per game while shooting 54.5 percent on 3-pointers. That accuracy isn't sustainable, but it's unclear his overall ceiling after only four games with his new team.
Additional depth may come in the form of rookie Troy Brown. Washington’s 2018 first-round pick missed the prior six games after suffering a grade-2 sprained ankle against Milwaukee Feb. 2. Before the break, Brooks stated he anticipated Brown returning after the break, though without a specific timeline. Whether the head coach uses the 6-foot-6 wing regularly as long as Washington remains in the playoff race is another story.
Future thinking receives headliner status for the remainder of this season. We at least know big decisions lie ahead. Whether this new-ish group finds a playoff groove is part of the unknown.
MORE WIZARDS NEWS:
- Decisions, Decisions: Wiz nearing important decision involving McRae's contract
- Recruiter Role: Beal played the role of Wizards recruiter at All-Star Weekend
- All-Star Vet: Bradley Beal's second All-Star Game went much smoother than first