The Washington Wizards have won seven in a row to push themselves into the playoff race, so are they a real threat from a play-in spot?
The race at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture is only a race in the sense that two teams in eventual play-in games will earn the last two traditional seeds. But that has opened the door for the Washington Wizards.
The Wizards won their seventh straight game Friday night, 129-109 over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Russell Westbrook led the way against his former team, with his fourth straight triple-double (37 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists). Bradley Beal had 33 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists.
Beal (31.1 points per game) is second in the league in scoring entering Saturday’s action, but Westbrook has been on a remarkable run lately.
The Wizards look like a team no one will want in the playoffs
Beal has been in and out of the lineup at times this season, as he has dealt with hip and back issues while playing in 50 of the team’s 59 games. But buoyed by the effort of Westbrook, the Wizards have recovered from going winless in their first five games and going 5-15 in their first 20. And Beal has not missed a game since April 10, which was the second game of a back-to-back. Over the seven games since then, in line with the winning streak, Beal is averaging 32 points per game.
With that win streak, the Wizards (26-33) now hold the 10th spot in the East by a full game over the Chicago Bulls and 1.5 games over the Toronto Raptors. They are 1.5 games back from the ninth-place Indiana Pacers, with two games left against them in the regular season.
Only five of the Wizards’ final 13 games are against teams with a winning record, which works in their favor. A five-game road trip from May 5-12 will prove pivotal, with games against the Milwaukee Bucks, Raptors, Pacers and a back-to-back against the Atlanta Hawks. The first of their final two games against Indiana leads into that road trip, so it’s really a crucial six-game stretch.
If the Wizards can stay in the play-in group, they will feel like a practical lock to emerge from it. And with Westbrook on the run he’s on and Beal having a terrific year himself, they could be a team the top-tier seeds in the East won’t want to deal with in the first round.