The Wizards‘ six-year postseason drought is close to coming to an end. So close that they could have a playoff spot secured before the end of the weekend.
Entering Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, the Wizards have a magic number of two to clinch one of the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference.
Washington (37-35) owns the tiebreaker with the ninth-place New York Knicks (30-43) so any combination of two Wizards victories, one Wizards victory and one Knicks loss or two Knicks defeats would get them into the postseason for the first time since 2008.
If the Wizards beat the Hawks, they would earn a playoff berth Sunday with a Knicks road loss against the Golden State Warriors. Clinching a playoff spot would also ensure that the Wizards will surrender their first-round pick to the Phoenix Suns as compensation for the Marcin Gortat trade.
But the Wizards have made the postseason their goal ever since Ted Leonsis declared last October that he “tired of losing” and expects Washington to be “a playoff-caliber team.”
Trevor Ariza has cautioned his teammates about getting ahead of themselves and believing that a postseason spot was secured. The Wizards played with greater urgency in a 91-78 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday and gained a game of separation from the seventh-place Charlotte Bobcats, who lost in overtime in Orlando. Charlotte is 2 1/2 games behind the Wizards and the teams will face each other two more times this season, including Monday at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“I don’t so much stress finishing in the top six. I want us to finish playing like this and then all that stuff takes care of itself, where you finish,” Coach Randy Wittman said after the Pacers game. “I don’t want them focusing on fifth, sixth, fourth. I want us to focus on doing what we did and then let the chips fall where they may. You’re gonna lose a game playing with effort like that. And teams [are] gonna beat you, but we can’t lose that. We can’t lose that. That’s the main thing I really want to do rather than worry about where we’re going to finish.”
The Wizards had lost four of five before claiming their first victory of the season against Indiana. Bradley Beal believes Friday’s win could propel the team to a strong finish with 10 games left. ““I think we’re turning it around. It’s that time of the year. It’s playoff time. And we’re right here,” Beal said. “Teams we need to lose are losing. All we’ve got to do is win. So I know for us to move up in the seedings and for us to get to where we need to get to at the end of the year, we got to continue to play hard and try to win every game.”
(TV: Comcast SportsNet. Radio: WJFK-106.7 MF, WFED-1500 AM).
Here’s some reading to get you ready for tonight’s game: