Welp, Let’s Talk Wizards Playoff Seeding (Because It’s Totally Not #SoWizards)
Welp, we’re here now.
Talking Wizards playoffs seeding.
Magic No. 9.
“Nine means the rebirth. It’s the last number before you start something else, so it’s the rebirth.”
At least that’s what Gilbert Arenas said when I asked him, in November 2010, why he chose jersey No. 9 (instead of No. 0) in his puppet comeback tour with John Wall’s Wizards before getting traded to the Orlando Magic (where he wore No. 1) and before playing for the Memphis Grizzlies (where he wore No. 10).
But what does the No. 9 have to do with the Washington Wizards and the NBA playoffs? It’s their ‘magic number’—if the Wizards win nine out of their last 18 games (and that .500 thing isn’t always easy), then they are guaranteed at least the 8-seed in the Eastern Conference.
At 33-31 Washington currently sits in sixth place, 14 games out of first (Indiana), 12 games out of second (Miami), 3.5 games from third (Toronto), 2.5 games from fourth (Chicago), half-a-game from 5th (Brooklyn), 2.5 games up on seventh (Charlotte), 4.5 games up on eighth (Atlanta), and a full eight games in front of the race for 9th (#KnicksTape).
For Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld, the 8-seed would be disastrous. The 7-seed would also be disastrous. This franchise yearns for the 6-seed—at least they claim to be that good, so anything less would be yet another failure in expectations. But to guarantee that 6-seed without question, the Wizards must win 14 out of 18 games (according to playoffstatus.com).
Now, the Wizards don’t have to win 14 games to finish sixth. If the Wizards won just nine of out 18, they would have a 62 percent shot at sixth, according to current models. But as it stands today with 18 games to go, they have a 35 percent chance of finishing sixth, a 28 percent chance of finishing fifth, and an 18 percent chance at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, as a 4-seed. Of course, there are actual games to be played past all this numbers bullshit. And while the Charlotte Bobcats are playing well, they have just a 21 percent chance at the 6-seed.
Which means that seeds Nos. 3-to-6 are almost a lock to include (in current order): Toronto, Chicago, Brooklyn, and Washington. But in what order? (And what matchups?) That remains to be seen … although the Raptors are currently given a 90 percent chance to lock down the 3-seed.
Who would I rather the Wizards face? Well, let’s eliminate the Nets without comment. Although it would be very blog-worthy. Screw the blogs. Toronto or Chicago? Conventional smarty-pants folk would probably want to avoid Chicago at all costs. They are tough. They are battle- (and playoff)-tested. They are a damn good team. Doesn’t matter: Give me Chicago.
Yes, I know. I’m on the wrong side of experience on this one. Washington and Toronto are tied for the longest absences from the playoffs in the East (2007-08), which means that both have plenty of inexperience. But this has less to do with Washington going 1-3 against Toronto so far this season and 2-0 against Chicago (with one game to go) and more to do with the fact that Washington matches up better defensively against Chicago, a team susceptible to extreme offensive droughts, as opposed to Toronto, who moves the ball very, very well.
But that’s just me, let’s see what four TAIers have to say about who they’d rather see the Wizards face in the playoffs.
Magic No. 9… Remember the race for the 9-seed last season? Washington finished tied with Detroit for 11th.
—Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It)
There has been a lot of movement lately in seeds 3 through 6 but I expect Washington to remain at 6 when the season ends. Much has been made of Washington’s easy remaining schedule but I don’t put too much stock in end-of-season schedule strength. All it takes is a couple good teams resting their star players down the stretch (something that happens every year) to throw the strength of schedule numbers out of whack.
For all Washington has accomplished this year, they are still wildly inconsistent. It’s hard to move up the ladder when you follow each strong stretch with a three-game losing streak. Brooklyn, on the other hand, is an Eastern Conference best 23-9 since January 1. That’s 40 percent of the season. After an awful start they are playing as everyone expected they would. There is absolutely no reason to believe that Washington, who has played up and down .500 ball for the past 110 games, can match the Nets’ “new normal” for the rest of the season. Chicago is Chicago. They bring it every night. They play at least 45-win basketball no matter how many man games they lose. Washington has won 45 games once in the past 34 years. The biggest challenge to Toronto’s 3-seed crown is a surging Brooklyn. But Toronto’s defense (4th overall in total points allowed) and diverse weapons on offense should allow them to continue on their 47-win pace and hold of the Nets.
Predicted first round match-up: Toronto (3) vs. Washington (6)
Which is actually a good thing because….
Throw out regular season performance, head-to-head record, and advanced stats, the one team Washington does not want to play in the first round is Chicago. Defense and half-court execution take center stage in the post-season. Chicago excels at the former and Washington has not quite mastered the latter—especially in end-of-game situations. Tom Thibodeau with nothing to do for a week but figure out ways to take the ball out of John Wall’s hands is a scary thought. Next on the “do not play” list is Brooklyn. Actually, they probably should be ahead of Chicago. Brooklyn is built for the playoffs. If they continue on their current pace they will enter the playoffs as the third-most dangerous team in the East—even if they are not the 3-seed. I don’t trust Washington to out “big shot” that roster in a seven-game playoff series. Which brings us to Toronto. I don’t care that the Raptors won the season series 3-1. The playoffs
are about experience. And Toronto has very little. When Wall and Beal make their post-season debut, I would rather it be against an equally green opponent.
Well, it’s happening. At the beginning of the season, most prognosticators prognosticated prognostications that had the Nets and Bulls below Miami and Indiana at the top of the Eastern Conference. Washington, on the other hand, was expected to compete with Detroit, Cleveland, and Atlanta for the 7- and 8-seeds. Along the way, Toronto became very good and the New York Knicks became very bad. The Wizards are currently in the sixth spot, after being passed by Brooklyn in the most #SoWizards of ways: losing to the Bobcats while the Nets beat the Heat.
With games left against the Bulls (1), Bobcats (2), and Nets (1), the Wizards will have plenty of chances to directly influence the standing of their direct competitors. But I don’t see them ending the season any higher than the 6-seed, barring an injury to Jimmy Butler or Joakim Noah on the Bulls. The Nets have been incredible in 2014, and are a far better team than the Wizards right now. That it took so long for Brooklyn to pass Washington in the standings is only a reflection of how poorly the Nets started the season (you’ll remember two Washington victories memorializing as much). Toronto and Chicago haven’t been much worse. Despite Washington’s string of success against non-playoff teams since the Nene injury, all three Eastern Conference peers have outstripped the Wizards’ pace of 8-4 since the All-Star break.
The Wizards haven’t lost to Chicago or Brooklyn yet this season, but have lost three times to Toronto. For all the fanfare surrounding Joakim Noah’s stoicism in the wake of the Derrick Rose injury and the Luol Deng trade, I still think Chicago is the best matchup for the Wizards. Toronto has a top 10 offense and a top 10 defense, they pass the ball extremely well, and they have two scorers (Lowry and DeRozan) capable of having big, big games. Against the Bulls, nothing much changes for the Wizards, who were going to take a ton of mid-range shots anyways, thank you very much.
#3 – Toronto
#4 – Brooklyn
#5 – Chicago
#6 – Washington
John Converse Townsend
The Washington Wizards are currently pencilled in as the 6-seed in the East, set to take on the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs. The Canadians took the season series 3-1, losing the last in a triple-overtime extravaganza on Feb. 27, but the 6-seed (playing the Drakes) is where the Wizards want to be.
Marcin Gortat has proven he can choke out Jonas Valanciunas, so it’ll be up to the rest of the squad (and Wittman) to find a way to slow down the likes of Wizards-killer Kyle Lowry, double-double threat Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan (who’s scoring just as well as Chris Bosh did in ’08, the last time the Raptors made the playoffs).
A 7- or 8-seed would square them against the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers … a quick death sentence for the Wiz Kids, even if John Wall thinks they “match up with those guys perfect.” (“Those guys” being Miami.) Otherwise, if the Wizards find themselves with a limp grip on the 5-seed, it’ll be the Bulls, a team that has won 23 of 33 games since January (the second-best record in the East behind Brooklyn).
The Wizards will want to avoid the Madhouse on Madison. Joakim Noah is getting a lot of love for his passing (leading the Bulls in total assists), but he’s also the terrifying face of a suffocating defense. Tom Thibodeau’s squad is No.2 in points allowed per game (92.3), opponent field goal percentage (43.3%), and Defensive Rating (98.1).
Nine years ago, the Washington Wizards broke a seven-year playoff drought by qualifying for the 5-seed and taking on the Chicago Bulls in the first round. That year they defeated the Bulls in six games, before getting swept in the second round by Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, and the Miami Heat.
This year, the Nets and Wizards will jockey for that 5-seed, but the Nene-less Wizards will gain control of that fifth spot and again play the 4-seed Chicago Bulls. Joakim Noah, Tom Thibodeau and that pesky Bulls defense figures to give Gortat, John Wall and Bradley Beal fits on defense with varied looks, contested shots and physical play. But if Martell Webster can stretch the floor with the 3-point shot, and if Drew Gooden and Al Harrington can gradually work themselves back into game shape and contribute the intangibles that are so important in the playoffs (the same intangibles that make Joakim Noah so effective), the Wizards become a more difficult team to defend. This would open up the floor and give Wall more court with which operate, which frees up Beal and Ariza for open shots and clear driving lanes. If Nene does return—even with a dreaded minutes limit—the Wizards will have yet another physical presence to throw at the Bulls which will nullify their advantage in experience.
Unfortunately, the Wizards second-round fate this year will be similar to the one they met in 2004. The Miami Heat will surpass the Indiana Pacers for the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference and will defeat the Wizards in six games, as opposed to four. Ted Leonsis will praise the heart and effort of his team, Wall and Beal will vow to get better, Gortat and Ariza will prepare to get paid by the Wizards or some other team, and there will be an abundance of cap room to soften the blow of the loss.
The Bulls represent the best case scenario for the Wizards, because they have to give maximum effort every night with little room for error. The Toronto Raptors don’t have playoff experience, but they have an effective point guard in Kyle Lowry, a peaking scorer in DeMar DeRozan, a slasher in Terence Ross, a banger Jonas Valanciunas, and, most importantly, they know they can defeat the Wizards in D.C. or Toronto. The Brooklyn Nets may falter as the regular season wanes, but once the playoffs start Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd will have that team focused and ready to play, and the Wizards—as evidenced by their loss to Miami early this week—do not have that second level to call upon just yet.
But Ted Leonsis wanted the playoffs, and that will be the lasting snapshot of this season. That has to count for something, right?
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It’s been six long years, but it’s a safe bet that Washington, D.C. will see some NBA post-season action in 2014.
The last time the Wizards made the playoffs, they fell in the first round for the third straight season to the Lebron James-led Cavaliers. A pre-gun-toting Gilbert Arenas drew the attention for the Wiz (although he played just four games/94 minutes of that 2008 six-game series due to knee issues) with swingmen Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler in tow. Andray Blatche and Brendan Haywood were handling things in the middle while the future still looked somewhat bright for wing players Nick Young and DeShawn Stevenson. Bradley Beal was 14 years old.
It took some bad trades, suspensions, tearing down, rebuilding, and some ping pong balls to fall in their favor, but the Wiz are finally back in the postseason hunt. Currently holding a sizable lead over 9th place New York, they’ve all but cemented a playoff spot in the weak Eastern Conference. With rising stars John Wall and Beal now running the pack, there’s excitement for Washington basketball again.
It’s not shocking that Wizards Playoff Tickets have already hit the resale market. According to TiqIQ; of the four possible games at Verizon Center, each is well over double the Wizards secondary market home average of $75 for their remaining games. Quarterfinal Playoff tickets average $188, $186, $195, and $194 per seat for their respective, potential home games.
With 18 games left to play, the Wizards are currently most likely to land between 3rd and 6th in the East, which will let them avoid Indiana and Miami in the first round. Out of their likely opponents (Toronto, Chicago, and Brooklyn), the cheapest ticket would likely come against Toronto ($42 average ticket price during the regular season). Brooklyn would likely be the most expensive playoff ticket ($85 average ticket price during the regular season). The two games vs Chicago averaged $84 per ticket during the regular season.
Dead on Arrival?
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