The Washington Wizards have so far this season played the easiest schedule in the NBA with a combined opponent win percentage of .478, according to ESPN's RPI rankings. But in Orlando, as they play out the final eight games of the adjusted regular season, they will face a much tougher road.
In the three-way race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, between them, the Magic and the Nets, they have the toughest schedule based on win percentage. The Wizards' remaining opponents carry a combined win percentage of .578 while the Magic schedule comes in at .551 and the Nets .544.
The Wizards have some manageable games against teams like the Suns, Nets and Pelicans. But five of their opponents have winning records: the Sixers, Pacers, Thunder, Bucks and Celtics. The Bucks, of course, hold the best record in the NBA at 53-12.
The Nets will play the Magic (twice), the Wizards, Bucks, Celtics, Kings, Clippers and Blazers. So, that means they see both the Bucks and Clippers, two teams on the short-list of title contenders.
The Magic will see the Nets (twice), Kings, Pacers, Raptors, Sixers, Celtics and Pelicans. So, they see neither the Bucks or Clippers or the Lakers, for that matter. Though the Raptors and Celtics are very good, they are arguably second-tier title contenders.
If past results can be applied to the present, meaning games that were played months ago before the league shut down due to coronavirus, the schedule could work against the Nets. They have a 4-8 mark against their remaining opponents, while the Wizards (6-5) and Magic (8-7) each boast winning records.
There is also the timing of these games to consider. The Wizards may get a break there as their three toughest opponents, the Thunder, Bucks and Celtics, come last on their schedule. What that means is they could see some stars resting if those teams have everything locked up by then. It seems distinctly possible for Milwaukee, who is likely to have the top seed secured.
The Magic, however, seem to have the best situation of the three teams moving forward despite technically having the second-hardest schedule of the three. For one, they get to play the Nets twice, which means they have two opportunities to directly help their cause in the playoff race. They are 2-0 against Brooklyn this season.
Orlando is just a half-game behind the Nets for the seventh-seed in the East. And the Magic are 2-0 against the Nets this season. They play them in their first game and their second-to-last game, so they have a chance to strike early and late in their push for the postseason.
The Magic also figure to be the healthiest team of the three. The Wizards and Nets both have stars out long-term with injuries between John Wall, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They also both have players who have opted out of going to Orlando between Davis Bertans and Wilson Chandler.
The Magic, on the other hand, should benefit greatly from the time off. Before the league shut down, they had some moderate injuries to Jonathan Isaac, Evan Fournier and Al-Farouq Aminu. If the season was played as normal and ended in mid-April, Orlando's playoff chances would have taken a hit. But the time off has allowed those players to heal and get back into the mix.
The way the East race stands now is the Nets are seventh and a half-game up on eighth-seeded Orlando, with the Wizards 5 1/2 games behind them, but only needing to get within four games of eighth to force a play-in tournament for the postseason. Based on those factors alone, the Wizards have lower odds to make the playoffs than the other two. And even if they got within four games of eighth, they would have to beat that team twice without losing to get in.
The Wizards also have the most difficult schedule remaining, barring something unforeseen like an injury or players resting. The Magic, meanwhile, may have the easiest road given they avoid the league's top teams and have a strong track record against their opponents.
With so much time off, some of this stuff may not apply as well as it normally would. But on the other hand, the schedule carries more weight than maybe ever before to close out a regular season, given the truncated timeline and stakes.
There is no question the Wizards will have their work cut out for them.
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