The Wizards were idle Monday but the Charlotte Hornets’ 116-104 loss to the Boston Celtics helped Washington clinch its second consecutive postseason berth with eight games remaining in the regular season.
Such an achievement should be cause for celebration for a franchise that went six years without a trip to the playoffs before last season, but the Wizards (41-33) raised expectations beyond simply reaching the playoffs this year and their recent nosedive has soured the atmosphere at Verizon Center. The vibe is a stark difference from last season.
Nearly one year ago to the day, the Wizards clinched their first postseason berth since 2008 to plenty of pomp with a rout of the Celtics. They were riding high, playing their best basketball of the season at the perfect time. They then toppled the Chicago Bulls in the first round before succumbing to the Indiana Pacers in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The success stoked excitement and hope for the future with a core centered around the potent back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal that emerged from a dark period in the franchise’s history.
But Washington has not made the progress they envisioned this season and is backpedaling into the playoffs. After a 31-15 start lifted expectations unseen in the District in decades, the Wizards, who have lost five of their last six games, are a paltry 10-18 and must go 4-4 over the final eight games to eclipse last season’s 44-win total.
The freefall plunged the Wizards from second place in the Eastern Conference to fifth, where they are firmly entrenched; with eight games left, Washington is three games behind the Toronto Raptors for home-court advantage in the first round and five games ahead of the sixth-place Milwaukee Bucks. A first-round matchup with the Raptors is likely.