The Wizards may have blown their playoff chances before first tip.
Washington simply needed to beat an awful Orlando team in Wednesday’s season finale to become the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed and face the injury-depleted Celtics in the first round. Washington beat Boston 113-101 on Tuesday.
Instead, Washington walked through the final minutes and lost to the Magic 101-92 to earn the eighth seed in the East and a first-round meeting with No. 1 seed Toronto. And if Washington can somehow advance, they’ll likely face a familiar nemesis in LeBron James and Cleveland. If they get through the King, a young Philadelphia team that has won 16 straight to finish the season could await.
Washington took a step back this season, and not just because John Wall missed 41 games. Coach Scott Brooks couldn’t re-energize the team down the stretch when losing 11 of the final 16, and five of their last six. They showed no spark against Orlando when their postseason plans came down to the last few minutes.
Brooks is in the second year of a five-year deal and is owed $21 million over the next three seasons, so his future won’t likely hinge on this postseason.
Yet the team’s performance hasn’t reflected well on him. The recent lack of ball movement and selfish shot selection has shown that the Wizards are tuning out Brooks.
Still, Tuesday’s win over Boston offered a glimpse of Washington’s playoff potential. The Wizards outscored the Celtics 61-47 in the second half while Wall went screaming down the court. Washington had incredible energy on both ends and dominated. If the Wizards play like that against the Raptors, they can win the series.
Washington’s best hope for an upset is to steal a win on the road Saturday in Game 1. Toronto has lost nine straight playoff-series openers. Washington was 2-2 against Toronto this season, with Wall missing every game. The Wizards swept Toronto in the first round three years ago and should feel like they can win this year with their best player back in the fold.
All season long, Washington has played up to good teams and been at its worst against bottom-dwellers such as Orlando, which sat three starters in the second half.
The Wizards won six fewer games in the regular season than the team that pushed Boston to a Game 7 in the second round last year, but they believe they can flip the switch to full intensity in the playoffs. History is working against them. A No. 8 seed hasn’t reached the NBA Finals since the Knicks in 1999. It doesn’t help that Otto Porter Jr. strained his right calf against Boston.
Bradley Beal earned his first All-Star nod this year, but Wall is the key to the series. He averaged 27.2 points in the postseason last year. If he can produce similar results, the Wizards have a chance.
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