The Washington Wizards (39-36) are the in playoffs for the first time since 2008, infamously known as the Gilbert Arenas Era. In order to provide perspective, the last time the Wizards reached the playoffs Blake Griffin was in college, and LeBron James was ring-less. A six-year drought that must have felt longer than Gandalf’s lifespan for dedicated Wizards fans.
Regardless, the Wizards are in the playoffs and actively rank as the six seed in a soft eastern conference. A seemingly clairvoyant Eastern Conference that had 99.9 percent of experts guaranteeing a conference final between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, is suddenly leaving questions after the Pacers recent struggles.
Indiana is 3-6 in their last nine games with turmoil generating in the locker room. One of those six loses came to guess who, the Wizards. Correlated or coincidence, the Pacers’ system shock started when Danny Granger was traded for Evan Turner. Turner, the second pick in the 2010 draft, has an historically uninspiring work ethic which is evident by his 8.7 Player Efficiency Rating (PER), lowest on the team for any player averaging double digit minutes.
No question the Pacers are a better team than the Washington Wizards, but the eastern conference playoffs could be closer than experts projected at the All-Star break.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Eastern Conference breakdown represents the Brooklyn Nets as the five seed, the Washington Wizards magically as a six seed after clinching a playoff berth followed by the Charlotte Bobcats and New York Knicks, who remain on the bubble.
The rebuilding phase that the Boston Celtics, Atlanta Hawks, and Orlando Magic have entered in to has opened the door for unusual suspects like the Wizards, Charlotte Bobcats and Brooklyn Nets to be in the playoff chase. Not exactly much damage done to the record books by these aspiring franchises. The last time the Bobcats qualified for playoffs was in 2010.
The Wizards are 1.5 games behind the Nets and two games ahead of the Bobcats. Charlotte has yet to secure a playoff seeding, but expect one soon as their upcoming schedule includes cupcake games against Orlando, Cleveland, Boston, and Philadelphia.
Interesting analysis is determining where the final four teams will rank. A matchup between the Bobcats and Wizards is scheduled for Apr 9, which is also the date Nene Hilario is scheduled for return from his knee injury. The big Brazilian is a critical component to the Wizards as he averaged 14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds at a 16.4 PER through his first 49 games.
An important game between the Washington Wizards and Knicks tomorrow is essential for ranking residuals. Both teams are playing well, but prediction is Knicks win this game as they continue their resurgent basketball since the hiring of “Zen Master” Phil Jackson, and the Wizards recognize a playoff berth hangover. Breaking down the eastern conference requires increased consideration as teams are heating up at the right time. The Washington Wizards magically clinching a playoff berth with two weeks remaining in the regular season simply adds to the fire.
Commentary by Niles Olson