Although the Washington Wizards clinched the team’s first playoff bid in five years—back when Gilbert Arenas led the team—seeding is still up for grabs in the Eastern Conference, and the Wizards need to keep winning games to move up in the standings.
But is that the matchup the Wizards want? Moving up in seeding is never a bad thing in the playoffs, but is there a specific team Washington might hope to match up against when the season wraps up in two weeks?
Landing the right team in the first round could make a difference between going home early and advancing to the second round for the Wizards, who are playing better than their record shows.
Regardless of the specific matchup, the Wizards are a gritty team with a lot of fight in them. They will at least make any first-round series fun to watch, but there are some teams that could make winning a series that much easier for Washington.
Favorable Matchups for the Wizards
The Wizards have really struggled this year against the Raptors, but this matchup would be a toss-up for both teams. The Wizards will take a toss-up over sure defeat at the hands of the Heat or Pacers.
Toronto won the first three matchups against the Wizards this season, but Washington avoided the season sweep in an amazing three-overtime game when John Wall and Marcin Gortat each scored 31 points.
Because Washington is such an inexperienced team in the playoffs, it’s best for them to get matched up against another team that is also inexperienced in the postseason.
When comparing the rosters on paper, fans have to like John Wall and Bradley Beal over DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Lowry and DeRozan score more, but Wall’s jumper is the best it's been all year right now, while Beal is a better defensive talent than DeRozan.
Beal also told Michael Lee of The Washington Post after clinching Wednesday night that he believes he’s ready to compete in the playoffs despite this being only his second year in the league.
It’s my second year, so I’m fortunate to be a part of a great group and be a part of this at an early age and it’s a good feeling... To be able to clinch the playoffs ourselves and get the win outright, it means a lot to us. It’s a great group of guys that the front office put together and we just stuck together.
The big difference-maker in this playoff matchup is the frontcourt advantage Washington has. Playoff experience aside, a lineup of Nene, Marcin Gortat, Drew Gooden and Al Harrington just brings more NBA experience overall than Jonas Valanciunas, Tyler Hansbrough, Patrick Patterson (who is injured right now) and Amir Johnson.
Valanciunas is a good young talent, but he wouldn’t hold up in a one-on-one matchup against Gortat or Nene. Gortat out-scores and out-rebounds him, and Gooden has simply been on fire since joining the Wizards.
Still, the Wizards have had a difficult time against the Raptors so far this season, but a seven-game series of these two teams could be very entertaining. The Wizards could find a way to move on to the next round with their experience over Toronto.
This matchup is significantly less likely than Toronto due to the current standings, but it would really put the Wizards in a good situation to win a series.
In order for this to happen, Brooklyn would have to catch either Chicago or Toronto, and they are currently 2.5 games back of both of those teams with just eight games left to go in the season. Or, the Wizards would need to catch up to Chicago, who they are currently four games back from.
But, in the event that this matchup happens, fans have to like Washington’s chances. The Wizards have won all three games against Brooklyn this season, most recently a comeback win in which the Wizards out-scored the Nets 29-15 in the fourth quarter.
Brooklyn is much more experienced overall, especially in the playoffs, but the Wizards could run them off the court with their speed.
Still, the Wizards’ play style matches up well against the Nets. The Wizards can run the floor, and by the fourth quarter they can wear Brooklyn down.
Brooklyn is just 29th in the league in rebounds per game, presenting a perfect opportunity for Nene, Gooden and Gortat to take over any game. Garnett is a valuable veteran to have on a playoff run, but he hasn’t looked the same this season. Without Brook Lopez, the Wizards can dominate this team down low.
Teams the Wizards want to Avoid
There’s not a single team in the playoffs (the top two seeds included) that would want to take on the Bulls in the first round. Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls have taken on the identity of a defense-first team that can grind out an 80-point game with any team.
As Elliott Smith wrote for the Express (owned by The Washington Post), the Bulls match up with pretty much any team.
Chicago is a nasty, smothering squad personified by professional pest and MVP candidate Joakim Noah and the Bulls have only gotten better since the Wizards beat them twice in a five-day span back in January. Chicago is arguably the worst matchup Washington could draw in the postseason.
Chicago is second in the league in scoring defense, holding teams to just 47.1 percent shooting.
This is also one of the few matchups where the Wizards don’t have an advantage in the paint. Noah, as Smith pointed out, has been playing out of his mind since the All-Star break. In March, power forward Taj Gibson averaged 10 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
This matchup wouldn’t end well for Washington.
Either Team that Lands the No. 2 Seed
Although it seemed like a foregone conclusion at the All-Star break that the Pacers were the lock for the No. 1 seed in the East, the Miami Heat currently have the top spot by a half game.
Either way, there is a scenario where the Charlotte Bobcats are able to make up their two-game deficit on the Wizards and take over the sixth seed, leaving the Wizards to have to take on the two seed.
The Pacers have been playing poorly recently, losing six out of their last 10 games. But the Wizards would have almost no chance against them in a seven-game series. As they showed last week against the Heat, Indiana can still turn it on when the time comes.
Washington did win one game against Miami this season, but this series wouldn’t make it past five games. The Heat are determined to win another championship, and the Wizards just don’t match up against their talent.