The Wizards faced long odds well before the playoff began.
Before a 17-6 finish to the regular season, the Wizards found themselves with, mathematically, a near non-zero chance to make the playoffs. They rallied late on the play of Russell Westbrook and found themselves in the play-in tournament just a few weeks after they appeared done.
They beat the Pacers for the eighth seed, which put them in a position to face perhaps even longer odds than the ones that looked them in the face in late winter.
Now, if the Wizards want to make their series against the 76ers even a remotely competitive one, they’ll have to stage a comeback never before seen in NBA history.
Throughout the NBA Playoffs, 426 playoff series have had a 2-0 series lead at one point or another. Just 27 times (6.3 percent) has a team down 2-0 come back to win the series. The Wizards, after a close loss in Game 1 and a blowout in Game 2, are against such odds.
Those numbers are even less favorable to the Wizards considering they’re facing a 76ers team that, despite being the best team in the Eastern Conference, just beat them by 25 points in Game 2. Since the first round was expanded to seven games, No. 1 seeds are a pristine 25-0 when leading the series 2-0.
Just five No. 8 seeds in NBA history have beaten the No. 1 seed and only one (the 1994 Denver Nuggets) won the series after falling behind 2-0.
Even if the Wizards split at Capital One Arena and force a Game 5, the odds will worsen. Of 247 teams that have fallen down 3-1 in league history, only 13 have come back to win (5.2 percent). So if the Wizards want to rally against the Eastern Conference’s top team, mathematically speaking, they’ll almost be forced to win both games at home starting with Game 3 on Saturday night.
The last No. 1 seed to go down was the 2012 Chicago Bulls in a loss to the 76ers, but even that series has an asterisk as Derrick Rose went down with an ACL injury in Game 1 which tanked the Bulls’ chances. The 76ers lost in the second round that year to the Celtics in seven games. Ironically, that series paved the way for the 76ers to acquire Andrew Bynum later in 2012, but he never played a game for the franchise.
Sam Hinkie took over in Philadelphia a year later and began the “Trust The Process” iteration of the 76ers that have taken the Wizards to the edge of the cliff, an era that began with the selection of Joel Embiid in 2014.
Before the 76ers’ upset, the No. 8 Grizzlies beat the No. 1 Spurs 4-2 in 2011. The “We Believe” Warriors beat the Mavericks in 2007, but that ends the list of series upsets in a best-of-7. In 1999 the Knicks beat the Heat 3-2 (in a five-game series), while the Nuggets beat the SuperSonics in 1994.
Washington has come back from a 2-0 series hole twice in franchise history, last in 2005 against the Bulls in the first round. Before that, the 1971 Bullets emerged from a 2-0 series hole against the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals. But that ends the list.
With Westbrook’s health unknown entering Game 3 and a 76ers roster out to make quick work of the first round, the deck is stacked against the Wizards at the moment.
Not a great probability indeed, but to get here the Wizards overcame even longer odds.