Potential first-round playoff opponents #3: Washington Wizards

With just seven regular season games left, the playoff picture remains relatively unclear for the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics have six and a half games in hand over the third seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, making virtually impossible for them to finish any lower than the second in the Eastern Conference.

The Toronto Raptors have just a three-game lead over the Celtics, meaning that the Celtics, however unlikely, still have a chance to capture the one seed.

Regardless, there is essentially no way that the Celtics first round opponent will be any higher than the seven seed.

Having already discussed two potential first round opponents (the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks); there is realistically only one other team the Celtics could end up facing: The Washington Wizards.

• Current record: 41-34
• Record vs. Celtics: 2-1

With the Raptors and Cavaliers ending their seasons with relatively healthy rosters, the Celtics appear to be the most vulnerable of the three to fall victim to a first round upset. Some have even speculated that lower seeded teams may be trying to position themselves to meet with the Celtics in the first round.
The Celtics and Wizards participated in, arguably, the most exciting series of last year’s playoffs: A seven game thriller in which the home team won every game. The series included a 52 point game from Isaiah Thomas, a game six “funeral” disrupted by a John Wall three-pointer, and a fourth-quarter burial hosted by Kelly Olynyk.

Much of what made last year’s series so exciting was the animosity between the two teams. The 2016-17 Celtics and Wizards flat-out disliked one another.

Unfortunately, from an entertainment perspective, most of the characters who made this matchup a rivalry are no longer present. Thomas, Olynyk, and Jae Crowder have all moved on to different teams, meaning we likely won’t get to witness moments such as this:
Or this:
Terry Rozier and guard Brandon Jennings had recurring issues last year, but Jennings now plays for the Bucks.
The only remnants of last year’s rivalry is the possibility of continued bad blood between Al Horford and forward Markeiff Morris.

In game one of last year's series, Morris landed on Horford’s foot when coming down from a jumpshot, causing an ugly high ankle sprain. Morris apparently believed Al injured him intentionally, and shoved him into the stands in the opening minutes of game two.
Given the extremely close relationship between Markeiff and his twin brother Marcus Morris, I’m not sure anyone on the Celtics will look to start any problems with the former this time around.

The 2016-17 Wizards had one of the best starting lineups in the NBA. The problem was their lack of depth. In games one and two of last year’s playoff series against the Celtics, the Wizards held formidable first quarter leads; 17 and 13 points, respectively.

Boston’s starting five was outmatched by that of Washington. When it came time for the second-unit to contribute, however, problems arose for the Wizards.

The likes of Jennings, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Kelly Oubre were unable to sustain any sort of lead; which was the ultimate downfall of last year’s Wizards.

This season, Washington’s roster remains largely the same as last. The most notable omission being Bogdanovic, who now plays for the Indiana Pacers. The loss of his three-point shooting prowess has been mostly offset by the emergence of guard Tomas Satoransky, who offers a similar skillset to Bogdanovic’s and has responded well to increased playing time.

The 2017-18 Wizards are not much better in terms of depth, but their starting five remains formidable, when healthy.

Two of the three times the Celtics and Wizards have met, the games have gone into overtime; a 110-104 Celtics victory in February, and a 125-124 double OT loss in March.

The deciding factor in how seriously the Wizards are to be taken is the health of John Wall. The five-time All Star guard has not played since January 25th, and has only played in 37 games this year; a career low. He is, however, expected to return to action today.

When healthy, Wall ranks among the best distributors in the game. A former first overall pick in 2010, Wall is really the prototypical modern point guard. Standing 6'4" with elite athleticism and passing ability, the Kentucky product is a handful on the offensive end. Given Kyrie Irving's knee injury, it would make sense to have Jaylen Brown handle the duty of guarding Wall. Except for the fact that Wall isn't the only All Star guard on Washington's roster.

Bradley Beal was a respected outside shooter the moment he entered the NBA. This year, though, the 6'5" guard has taken his game to a new level.

Beal took over the role of primary ball-handler in Wall's absence; and in doing so, became much more comfortable as a facilitator. He is averaging a career high 4.6 assists per game. The first-time All Star has an impressive offensive arsenal; including the ability to score off the dribble, with his back to the basket, and with one of the crispiest deep balls the NBA has to offer.
This summer, Washington fully committed to wing Otto Porter Jr. as their third option by signing him to a four-year, $106 million contract. The former third overall pick from Georgetown has slowly progressed into a very good two-way player.

Porter Jr. is arguably the Wizards' best defender, and is putting up career numbers across the board; including 14.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. He left the Wizards' March 29th game against the Detroit Pistons with a sprained right ankle, but Porter Jr. is not expected to miss any extended time as a result.

Center Marcin Gortat gave the Celtics a lot of trouble in last year's playoffs; averaging 4.4 offensive rebounds per game for the series. The additions of Aron Baynes and Greg Monroe should help the Celtics in this area, but Gortat is still not a player to be scoffed at.

As previously mentioned, the Wizards' ultimate weakness is their lack of depth. Kelly Oubre is their best contributor off the bench; and I'm sure he's eager to return to the TD Garden.
Guard Jodie Meeks and forward Mike Scott are both solid NBA players, but neither require much of a plan to deal with. Make sure neither are left open behind the three-point line; and if they score a tough inside shot, you live with it.

With a healthy Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis, I wouldn't give the Wizards much of a shot in a seven game series with the Celtics. If the Abdel Nader's of the world are seeing regular playing time, though, then lack of depth is clearly an issue for both teams.

Still, the Wizards' reputation of being playoff chokers is not without merit. I simply can't imagine a Scott Brooks coached team to show up with any sort of game plan. The talent is there, but give me a Brad Stevens coached, beaten up team any day of the week. Celtics in seven, again.

Photos by Brian Babineau/NBAE
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