- The Washington Times
Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Washington Wizards now know when and where their season will resume.

The NBA released its schedule Friday, and Washington will tip off July 31 against the Phoenix Suns at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando. That kicks off a 13-day sprint that features a total of eight games, concluding with a Aug. 13 regular-season finale against the Boston Celtics.

With a 24-40 record, the Wizards are 5½ games out of the playoffs and need to be within four games to force a play-in tournament. Here are takeaways from the team’s schedule:

Start fast

Based on strength of schedule, the Wizards have the ninth-hardest slate of games remaining. But two of their easier matchups come first — a meeting with the Suns, followed by an Aug. 2 showdown with the Brooklyn Nets.

Both the Suns and the Nets are below .500, which makes getting off to a fast start a priority for the Wizards. The Nets matchup, in particular, is key because Brooklyn is six games ahead of Washington and 1½ games ahead of the eighth-seeded Magic.

After that, the team’s path becomes more challenging. Even the 28-36 New Orleans Pelicans — the last under .500 team that Washington will face — no longer seem like a pushover, thanks to rookie sensation Zion Williamson.

The Wizards face five teams with winning records: Indiana (Aug. 3), Philadelphia (Aug. 5), Oklahoma City (Aug. 9), Milwaukee (Aug 11) and Boston (Aug 13). Before the pandemic, the Wizards were 6-18 against teams over .500. Against those five, Washington went 3-5.

Magic watch

Let’s face it: For the Wizards to force a play-in tournament — let alone make the playoffs — they need Orlando or Brooklyn to completely implode. That’s why the Wizards will surely be closely monitoring results involving those teams.

But on paper, the Magic and the Nets don’t have the schedule to suggest a meltdown is coming. The Magic have the league’s fifth-easiest strength of schedule, while Brooklyn has the sixth.

If there is a sliver of hope for Washington, it’s that the Magic have gone 4-7 against their final opponents this season. Of the teams the Magic face when play resumes, Orlando has yet to beat Toronto, Boston, Indiana and Philadelphia. The Magic also play Brooklyn twice, New Orleans and Sacramento.

The Nets, meanwhile, went 4-6 in previous matchups against their upcoming opponents. They’re winless against Washington, Orlando and Milwaukee. Brooklyn also hasn’t played the Los Angeles Clippers this year and will do so for the first time on Aug. 9.

Still, the odds are steep for the Wizards. Five Thirty-Eight’s playoff prediction model pegs Orlando’s chances of making the postseason at greater than 99%, with Brooklyn’s at 98%. The Wizards? Just 2%.

Due to the disparity in the standings, the Wizards must win at least two more games than the Magic to force the play-in. If Orlando goes 3-5, then Washington would have to finish 5-3, for instance.

To advance to the playoffs from the play-in tournament, the ninth seed must beat the eighth seed twice in a row. If it loses once, the eighth seed advances.

No national interest

The national networks were not keen on airing the Wizards before the beginning of the 2019-20 season, and there’s been no reason for that to change. The Wizards won’t have any of their eight remaining regular-season games broadcasted by ESPN or TNT when play resumes. The Wizards will play on NBA TV once (Aug. 5, Philadelphia 76ers), but that game begins at 4 p.m. on a Wednesday.

The Suns (26-39) are the only other team part of the league’s restart without an ESPN or TNT appearance.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Wizards are young, rebuilding and lack star power beyond Bradley Beal. Before the NBA halted its season in March, the Wizards had just one game on national TV: A forgettable 113-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on ESPN.

The league’s schedule makers also apparently had no interest in featuring the Wizards in prime time: Just two of their games begin past 7 p.m.

The Wizards will have five games tip off before 5 p.m. — tied with Phoenix for most in the league.

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.