Wizards' final month will be a wild ride originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
There has been a lot of talk recently from Wizards players and head coach Wes Unseld Jr. about how they can sense the stakes are getting higher. As the season winds down, and as they float in the postseason picture, more attention is being paid to every practice and every game. They are feeling a natural sense of urgency.
At the same time, their games are seemingly getting crazier. They went to overtime on Saturday in a loss to the Raptors, as Delon Wright made a clutch three to force the extra period. Then on Tuesday night, they beat the Pistons thanks to a buzzer-beater shot from close range by Daniel Gafford.
Lately, the Wizards have been playing some heart-pumping thrillers. Is this what the final month of the season is going to be like? If so, hold onto your seats.
The Wizards still have 17 games remaining as they sit 31-34 on the season. They are 10th in the Eastern Conference and current owners of the final spot for the play-in tournament.
Up next are two games at home against the Atlanta Hawks, who at 32-33 are eighth in the East. The Wizards just beat Atlanta on the road on Feb. 28. This offers as good an opportunity as they could ask for to make up some ground in the standings.
That two-game series will have enormous postseason implications for both teams and there will be plenty more of that for the Wizards moving forward. Of their final 17 games, 10 will be against teams currently holding postseason spots in the East. They see the No. 8 Hawks three times, plus the No. 7 Heat and No. 9 Raptors once apiece.
Washington, meanwhile, is just one game back from the Hawks in eighth and a half-game behind the Raptors in ninth. The stage is set for them to make a playoff push and in some ways control their destiny along the way.
Now, in order to get where they want to go, the Wizards will have to play better than they did on Tuesday night. They were facing quite literally the worst team in the NBA and the Pistons were without Cade Cunningham, their best player, plus the very talented Jalen Duren.
Washington was without starting point guard Monte Morris, but it really shouldn’t have been that close. They played a bad defensive game, allowing Detroit to shoot 51.2% from the field and make 13 threes on 43.3% from deep. That type of basketball probably won’t cut it against the Hawks, who are much better than the Pistons, and it’s not a recipe for consistency down the stretch.
The overall trajectory remains promising even though the Wizards have lost two out of their last three games. Since Dec. 20 when Gafford was inserted into the starting lineup, the Wizards are 19-14, good for the eighth-best record in the NBA. They also have the 10th-best net rating (+2.6) during that stretch.
They have wavered a bit lately, though, at 7-8 in their last 15 games. Since that stretch began, they have a negative net rating (-0.4) which ranks 18th in the league.
Working in the Wizards’ favor is 11 of their final 17 games will be at home. Though they have lost three of their last four in D.C., they are better at home (15-15) than they are on the road (16-19) on the season overall.
If recent games are any indication, it could be a rollercoaster finish for the Wizards. They have a month to go and every game will matter more and more as the regular season nears its end. Some could directly decide who makes the postseason.
Buckle up, it could be a bumpy ride.