In the NHL, the New York Rangers became the first club knocked out of the sport’s bubble-based restart. In the NBA, the first team to be eliminated from reaching the playoffs just might be the Washington Wizards, and it could happen as soon as Wednesday night.
The Wizards were included in the NBA’s 22-team return to play because they were the No. 9 team in the Eastern Conference, and far from mathematically eliminated from reaching No. 8 if some things broke their way.
The league’s new parameters gave Washington an even greater chance: If the ninth-best team in a conference could finish within four games of No. 8 (the last playoff seed) after every team finished an eight-game schedule of regular season games, they would trigger a two-game play-in series for the right to the No. 8 seed.
For the Wizards, that has meant chasing two teams in particular: the Orlando Magic and the Brooklyn Nets. The East’s top six teams already have playoff berths locked up.
But the Wizards have lost the first three games they’ve played in the league’s bubble at Disney World, including one to Brooklyn, dropping their overall record to 24-43 and digging themselves an even deeper hole.
The Wizards, Magic and Nets are all in action on Wednesday. If the Wizards lose to Philadelphia, the Magic beat Toronto and the Nets beat Boston, that would mathematically eliminate Washington from contention for the eighth seed.
Why? Because the Wizards would fall to 24-44 with four games remaining, meaning the best they could finish would be 28-44. The Magic and Nets both sit at 32 wins as of Wednesday morning, so if both make it to 33, there’s no way a 28-44 Wizards team could finish within four games of either team.
Washington also would be out of the running if it simply lost two more games. It’s almost bound to happen at some point, because the Wizards‘ remaining opponents include some of the NBA’s best teams like Milwaukee and Boston, plus a Zion Williamson-led New Orleans team trying to scrap its way into a Western Conference playoff spot.
As we wrote in June, the Wizards couldn’t afford to start slow in the bubble, but that’s exactly what they did with three opening losses. Now any hope for a playoff berth, however far-fetched it was to begin with, could disappear as soon as Wednesday night.
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