Before COVID-19 ripped through the nation, the Washington Wizards were just 5 1/2 games back from the eighth spot in the NBA Eastern Conference prior to stoppage of play on March 12.
Now, as the NBA finalizes plan for a new 22-team format, bringing basketball back after its unexpected hiatus, the Wizards (24-40) have a legitimate shot to reach the postseason for the first time since 2018.
“The Board’s approval of the restart format is a necessary step toward resuming the NBA season,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “While the COVID-19 pandemic presents formidable challenges, we are hopeful of finishing the season in a safe and responsible manner based on strict protocols now being finalized with public health officials and medical experts. We also recognize that as we prepare to resume play, our society is reeling from recent tragedies of racial violence and injustice, and we will continue to work closely with our teams and players to use our collective resources and influence to address these issues in very real and concrete ways.”
The NBA selected 13 Western Conference and nine Eastern Conference squads including Washington. If the Wizards slip into eighth place currently held by the Orlando Magic (30-35), they will secure a spot in the playoffs.
Most of the 22 teams will play 72 or 73 games after the eight “seeding games” are added to their regular-season game total in Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort.
There could be a possible play-in tournament for the eighth seed and final spot in the playoffs. The play-in scenario could occur for the last spot in each conference if the No. 9 seed is within four games of No. 8.
If the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, no play-in tournament would be necessary.
However, if the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, then we’ll have a battle for the final spot.
Afterwards, a match between those two teams would ensue in a best-of-two series where the No. 9 seed would have to win two head-to-head matchups to take over the No. 8 spot.
The games are tentatively scheduled for July 31, and the NBA Draft is projected to start on Aug. 31. The playoff format will remain the same in a best-of-seven series leading up to and including the 2020 NBA Finals.
Wizards guard Bradley Beal is coming off of one of his most productive seasons, totaling career highs in points per game (30.5) and assists with 6.1 per game.
The Wizards will look to rely on him to secure a playoff spot without the services perennial all-star point guard John Wall.
Wall has been nursing an Achilles injury that will indeed sideline him for the rest of the season. Wall confirmed with multiple outlets that he is “110 percent” but will not play the remainder of the season.
The former Kentucky Wildcat has been a shining star for the Wizards during the duration of his career but has not played a game since December 26, 2018.
The five-time NBA All-Star averaged 20.7 points, 8.7 assists and 1.5 steals during a 32-game stint (2018-2019 season) before suffering that injury, which required surgery.
However, Beal has emerged as the man in Washington being the leading scorer and facilitator during his absence. Nevertheless, the Wizards have their work cut out for them on the road at a neutral site as Washington went just 8-24 on the road this season.
It will be a tough row for this young unit as only the Atlanta Hawks (20-47) allowed more points per game defensively than the Wizards in the Eastern Conference up to this point.