Wizards’ best hope for playoff berth is Nets’ failure, not Magic’s

The NBA released the eight-game schedules for the returning teams when games restart on July 30. With all the complications that could result from restarting basketball amid the pandemic, in one of the worst states in the country to be in at this time, there’s no certainty that the rest of the season will be played out in its entirety.

For now, fans now have a look at what lies in store when NBA basketball returns. I broke down the implications of the Wizards’ supposed schedule a few weeks ago, but as predicted, the official schedule is different.

The Wizards’ eight-game schedule looks like this:

7/31 – Phoenix Suns (13th in West)

8/2 – Brooklyn Nets (7th in East)

8/3 – Indiana Pacers (5th in East)

8/5 – Philadelphia 76ers (6th in East)

8/7 – New Orleans Pelicans (10th in West)

8/9 – Oklahoma City Thunder (5th in West)

8/11 – Milwaukee Bucks (1st in East)

8/13 – Boston Celtics (3rd in East)

The green teams are those on the fence, either outside the current playoff picture or at risk of falling out over the next eight games. The orange represents those firmly in a playoff position, and the red represents top three teams in either conference. On paper, it’s a fairly balanced schedule that gets progressively more difficult.

The Wizards were initially expected to face the Celtics and Bucks twice each, so it’s at least nice to see that it’s just once each. At the same time, they make up the final two matchups of the regular season, which could make it difficult if things go down to the wire.

The Wizards open with their “easiest” opponent in the Phoenix Suns, but with everyone coming back after such a long layoff, it will be anyone’s game. The next game against Brooklyn will be even more important, as the Wizards will be in a direct playoff race with the Nets. They must finish at least two games ahead of either Brooklyn or Orlando just to force a play-in series. This may be the most important game of the eight-game slate, but more on that later.

After those two games, the Wizards will face two more lower-seeded Eastern Conference playoff teams in Philadelphia and Indiana. Those will be two tough games, assuming neither opponent loses a key player to injury or otherwise, and these may serve as “make-or-break” games depending on the results of the first two games. Both sides will simply be jockeying for a better playoff seeding, so the urgency may not be as high on their end, but motivation, or lack thereof, won’t really be an issue for any team at this point.

Fans will then get a close look at 2019 No. 1 pick Zion Williamson, who at 19 years old is already one of the league’s biggest names. Williamson spent much of his rookie season recovering from an offseason injury, but he is still a major attraction that the league will continue to showcase. His Pelicans (10th in the West) will have the most nationally televised games besides the two LA teams, who are the top two in the West.

Following the sixth game against the surprisingly strong post-Russell Westbrook Thunder will be the final two games against Milwaukee and Boston. The Wizards will have to come in hot and be able to shut down some of the league’s best players, but the absence of Dāvis Bertāns hurts.

The Wizards’ best hope may actually be a complete breakdown from either Orlando or Brooklyn. If either team has a bad record after eight games, it will be much easier for the Wizards to force a play-in tournament. It’s a lot to hope for, but let’s look at each team’s schedule:

Orlando Magic schedule:

7/31 – Brooklyn Nets (7th in East)

8/2 – Sacramento Kings (11th in West)

8/4 – Indiana Pacers (5th in East)

8/5 – Toronto Raptors (2nd in East)

8/7 – Philadelphia 76ers (6th in East)

8/9 – Boston Celtics (3rd in East)

8/11 – Brooklyn Nets (7th in East)

8/13 – New Orleans Pelicans (10th in West)

Despite the four “green matchups,” this schedule could prove difficult. We’ll get to the two matchups against the Nets later, but a fully-rested Williamson could wreak havoc against any team (which is also bad news for the Wizards). Orlando is certainly capable of winning three or four of those “green” games, and could very well pull off one or two wins in the other four games.

There will be a fair share of volatile results given the long layoff that every team will need to work themselves out of, but barring disaster, Orlando doesn’t seem like a great bet to fall apart with this schedule.

Brooklyn Nets schedule:

7/31 – Orlando Magic (8th in East)

8/2 – Washington Wizards (9th in East)

8/4 – Milwaukee Bucks (1st in East)

8/5 – Boston Celtics (3rd in East)

8/7 – Sacramento Kings (11th in West)

8/9 – LA Clippers (2nd in West)

8/11 – Orlando Magic (8th in East)

8/13 – Portland Trail Blazers (9th in West)

The Nets have five “green” games, but only one is against a team seeded lower than ninth. These could make for many close games. Like the Wizards, the Nets will face the Bucks and Celtics in back-to-back games. Throw in the Clippers two games later, and that makes for a tough middle stretch.

Going back to those two Magic-Nets games, these will have major implications for the Wizards. At a glance, it both helps and hurts the Wizards, as one of those teams is guaranteed to lose, while the other is guaranteed to win. However, if one of those teams loses both matchups, it would help the Wizards greatly, even though it would likely put the winning team out of reach.

Looking at both teams’ schedules, the Wizards should hope that the Magic win both games. The Nets will have a hard time beating Boston, Milwaukee and LA, especially if Kyrie Irving sits out, an idea the star point guard has entertained. If Brooklyn loses those three “red” games and both games against Orlando, then they have no chance of finishing above .500. The Wizards can help their own case by beating the Nets when they square off on Aug. 2. If all of that happens, the best Brooklyn would be able to finish is 2-6, meaning the Wizards would only need to finish 4-4 to force the play-in.

If Brooklyn manages to beat Orlando twice, however, then the Wizards will need Orlando to lose to at least three of their four “orange”/”red” opponents, and ideally to another “green” team as well. I think that scenario is less likely, but either outcome works for Washington, so fans should keep an eye on both games between Orlando and Brooklyn.

This is all idealistic; upsets can and will happen, so you can’t exactly mark these games down in Sharpie. However, if you’re a Wizards fan looking to cling onto any beacon of hope, then the failure of the Nets is the best option. The absence of Irving would help those chances immensely, but the Wizards will still have to hold up on their end. Finishing worse than 3-5 won’t be enough, so keep your fingers crossed as we move toward July 31.

Cover Photo Credit: Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

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