Before the Washington Wizards finally clinched a playoff spot this week, any worries about postseason seeding were too premature and the pressures had caused unnecessary tension for a team in such unfamiliar territory. Al Harrington addressed those concerns and told his teammates to concentrate on beating Boston to get in on Wednesday, which the Wizards did in emphatic fashion.
“Now we can talk about that,” Harrington said of playoff positioning. “We had to get off one hurdle and get to that.”
The Wizards (39-36) are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with seven games remaining and have a difficult stretch ahead against three teams that rank among the top eight. Washington will take on the eighth-place New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Friday, the fourth-place Chicago Bulls at home on Saturday and then welcome the seventh-place Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday.
In a lot of ways, the playoffs are already underway.
“Don’t let off the gas,” Trevor Ariza said. “I feel like that’s the mentality that we have to have. We got to stay hungry and stay on our grind to keep our seeding or whatever the case may be, or just to prepare for the playoffs, because that’s going to be different ballgame.”
The Wizards still have a chance to catch the fifth-place Brooklyn Nets, who have a 1½-game lead over Washington, but have to also be worried about the hard-charging Bobcats, who trail the Wizards by just two games and have a chance to claim the tiebreaker next week. Of the three teams, the Wizards have the toughest schedule with two opponents with winning records the rest of the way – Chicago and Miami. Brooklyn faces just one winning team – Miami – in its final eight games and Charlotte only has to deal with Chicago in the season finale, when playoff seeds could already be settled.
Brooklyn trails Toronto by 2½ games for the Atlantic Division title but is unlikely to catch the Raptors. Toronto and Chicago have the same record at 43-32, and the Wizards will face one of those teams if they avoid sliding to seventh.
Washington went 1-3 against the Raptors and is 2-0 against the Bulls this season.
Marcin Gortat already declared that he had no interest in just getting to the playoffs.
“I want to make at least the second round – at least,” Gortat said.
When asked if he was on board with Gortat, John Wall said: “Yeah. For my first time in the playoffs, just enjoy the excitement but play the right way and see what can happen, you never know. It’s just like the NCAA tournament. You got to play more than one game, but any upset can happen. You’ve just got to play the right way for four games.”
But first, the Wizards have to lock up an ideal playoff seed.
Games remaining: 8
Home (4): Detroit (Fri.), Atlanta (April 11), Orlando (April 13), New York (April 15)
Road (4): Philadelphia (Sat.), Miami (Tues.), Orlando (Wed.), Cleveland (April 16)
Games remaining: 7
Home (4): Chicago (Sat.), Charlotte (Wed.), Milwaukee (April 12), Miami (April 14)
Road (3): New York (Fri.), Orlando (April 11), Boston (April 16)
Games remaining: 7
Home (3): Orlando (Fri.), Philadelphia (April 12), Chicago (April 16)
Road (4): Cleveland (Sat.), Washington (Wed.), Boston (April 11), Atlanta (April 14)