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Wizards strides, playoff vibes: predicting the final finish

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LeBron’s fateful whisper. Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em’s courtside cameo. The congregating ‘White-Out’ playoff tee’s. It’s been six years since the Wizards’ postseason chronicles was last updated. Since then, a roster implosion followed by a grueling rebuilding process has occupied and tormented our basketball fanhood, steering us to the brink of extreme psychosis. Six gotdamn years but finally today, in this capsule of time, the air in DC is once again abuzz of postseason elation (despite the turmoil in Sactown last night).

Just 15 games remain on the Wizards schedule and by that measurement we’ve deemed it plausible to begin our discussion on how the Wizards will finish, who we predict they’ll face in the first round of the playoffs, and what are the key factors for their success down this last stretch.

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Charles Lamar (@MrTakeitEasy)

Wizards final record and seeding: 47-35, 4th.

First-round matchup: Chicago Bulls

The Wizards are going to end the season on a nice winning streak finishing at 47-35. I know that’s a tad optimistic but I think a 12-4 stretch isn’t outside of the realm of possibility. If they are able to pull this off, this will be the best record the team has had since the ’78-’79 season.

I feel like Chicago is going to falter down the stretch and lose the 4th seed to the Wiz. That sets up a first round match up with the Bulls, with the Wiz getting home court advantage. With the home court advantage I think the Wiz beat Chicago pretty handily in five games. Even though Chicago’s defense is stout and they have the clear Defensive Player of the Year in Joakim Noah, Chicago doesn’t have the offensive firepower to match up with the Wizards. The Wiz should have an easy time shutting down the likes of Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, and Taj Gibson. Not to mention the Wiz swept the season series.

The X-factor for the Wizards to finish strong: Going into their first playoff appearance I have confidence in the Wall and Beal combo, we know what we’re going to get out of them pretty much every night. The X-Factor for the playoffs is going to be the X-factor from the regular season, Trevor Ariza. He has been the glue that has held this team together all season.The Wiz will go as Ariza goes. If he continues to shoot lights out and play lockdown defense of the others teams best wing then the Wizards should be just fine going forward.

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Zain Zaidi (@ZainZ24)

Wizards final record and seeding: 45-37, 4th.

First-round matchup: Chicago Bulls

Wizards in 7. Even though the Wizards are one of 12 teams in the NBA to have a positive road record, Verizon Center will be more juiced than an old Nokia plugged into an Iphone charger in every home playoff game, especially a take-all contest. Yes, Tom Thibodeau is a great coach. Yes, Joakim Noah has the potential to put up 20-15-5 a game given his recent and relative resurgence. In contrast, Chicago’s core can’t score with the best of them and…drumroll…the Washington Wizards core can…never thought I’d say that.

Notice I said core- Wall/Beal/Ariza. They have the better Big 3. Chicago might not even have a legit Big 3. Noah, Boozer, and…Butler? Augustin? Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich play stout defense, but Wall and Beal have shown flashes of impressive defensive prowess lately, more so Wall. D.J. Augustin has seemingly found a home in Chicago and playing better than we expected, but Ariza is adding zeroes onto his impending 2015 contract every week.

The Wiz’ trio have also shown an ability to put up points on good defensive players and schemes. The key for them will be not to settle for the midrange (Wall) and long 2’s (Beal), and for Ariza the key will be not to do anything but take open 3’s and slam the ball home on fast breaks. The most influential player on the Bulls is Joakim Noah. Boozer is good but seems to disappear when needed most. I mean, Nate Robinson was the lightning rod in many of Chicago’s playoff wins sans Derrick Rose. Noah is more of a wild card because of his ability to do the dirty work and his ascendance into being recognized as elite. To stop him – cut out his second chance points, box him out as if your life depended on it, and pray he doesn’t turn into Karl Malone overnight. Easier said than done for the most part, but Wittman should be able to create The Blueprint. It sounds easier than it is, considering a lot of his floor plans end up sounding like The Blueprint 3. The day he escapes criticism they’ll keep H-O-V open all day. Okay, enough wordplay. Bring on the next one…

The X-factor: I have to go with the bench. This offense is built on 3-point shooting but at the end of the day, the Wizards have always found a way to get open looks. The problem is they have been Jekyll and Hyde at times in converting them. The lack of bench depth has plagued the team all throughout the season and the blame can be allocated towards general management and coaching. You’d be a sucker not to realize how much work a good coach can do in putting starters in a position to succeed. Point being that you’d be an even bigger fool not to realize that bench players need even more positioning to succeed.

This bench isn’t talented or spry enough to maximize leads and minimize deficits on a game by game basis, but it is talented enough to do its part if put in a position to succeed. Wittmans rotations and allocation of minutes – and specifically how he matches size with size and speed with speed, could determine the outcome of many games. Taking John Wall out a minute early or minute late could become #WizardsTwitter trending tweet material. Tweets filled with vitriol and mordancy from the casual fan, branching out to tweets filled with malice and malevolence from lifers. Taking out or inserting in guys like Wall or Beal at the absolute right time given the circumstances will get you zero brownie points from the masses. Good luck!

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Mike Andrews (@DJBigMikeDMV)

Wizards final record and seeding: 46-36, 4th.

First-round matchup: Chicago Bulls

I believe that the Wizards, if facing Chicago, will be able to pull out the series against a team that, while hot right now, will have tough keeping their composure in a series against the Wizards. Unfortunately in the 4th seed, the Wizards would most likely see Indiana after that if the standings stay true to this prediction. I have trouble believing the Wizards will be able to pull out a series against them, but either way fans should still be happy with these results.

The X-factor: John Wall and Drew Gooden. I cannot believe I am saying that, but Gooden’s playoff experience is going to help out Wall. With the status of Nene still unknown for now, Gooden will hopefully continue his impressive production from the bench at the same time Wall’s game is finally recognized on a grander scale.

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Saam Bozorgmehr (@DJ_Saam)

Wizards final record and seeding: 47-35, 5th.

First-round matchup: Chicago Bulls

I have the Wizards winning 12 more games this season which would give them a 47-35 record for the year. In reality, I think they can win at least 15 more games, but I know we’re due for a couple #SoWizards games in the final stretch so I’ll be conservative and say 12 more wins.

With Charlotte, Brooklyn, Toronto and Chicago all playing pretty good basketball, I think the Wizards will keep pace with those other teams and for that reason, I think they finish right where they currently stand which is at the 5th seed.

Facing Chicago, however, might be the worst case scenario for the Wizards because I feel like Chicago (other than Miami or Indiana) is such a tough match up for them. They’re a physical team who gets up in your face and challenges every shot. Noah is playing some of the best basketball of his career right now Kirk Hinrich is one of the most underrated point guards in the league.

Washington’s uptempo style of basketball doesn’t always fair too well against hard nosed defensive teams. I know they’ve done fairly well against Chicago this season, but based on how Washington played against Charlotte last week, I just feel in a 7 game series the best defensive team will always come out on top. Wizards would take it to 7 games, but ultimately Chicago would win. I hope I’m wrong here. However, if they end up playing Toronto or even Brooklyn, I think the Wizards advance to the next round. If Nene’s health remains an issue, I can’t picture this team advancing any further than the 2nd round.

The X-factor: If the Wizards want to make a deep run in the post season, I think the bench is going to have play a critical role. By bringing in Andre Miller and Drew Gooden, not only does this team have more depth, but they also have a lot of playoff experience. When the postseason comes around, I think you’ll see the veterans step their game up and guide our young core to some great wins. It’s going to be fun to see how Wall and Beal handle themselves in the postseason but seeing how these two young studs have developed both on and off the court over the last few seasons, something tells me they will embrace the pressure of the NBA post season and excel. Having those veterans alongside Al Harrington makes me optimistic about the Wizards in the postseason (pending the first round match up).

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Joe Glorioso (@JoeGlo1)

Wizards final record and seeding: 47-35, 5th.

First-round matchup: Chicago Bulls

I’ve got the Wizards going 10-6 down the stretch with losses to Blazers, Suns, Pacers, Knicks, Bobcats the second time around because #SoWizards and another heartbreaker to the Heat. The Wizards have one more meeting with the Bulls which I have them winning giving them a season sweep. In a 7 game series though, I think this is a very tough matchup for Washington, one in which they’ll need Nene to counter the way Noah is playing. Here’s to hoping we get to relive another classic Wizards/Bulls series like the one that brought us..

The X-factor: I’m going to cheat like I always do and select two X-factors. John Wall and the bench play. This is obviously Wall’s breakout year by evidence of his play with and without Nene. Washington goes as far in the playoffs as their franchise point guard will take them and I do believe he gets them into the 2nd round for the first time in ages. I chose the bench as well because if Gooden, Harrington, Miller and Webster continue to play like they have been of late I can see the Wizards being a pain in the ass to compete against. Love the energy coming from these guys and come playoff time that type of intensity can cover up deficiencies.

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