Apr 5, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) dribbles the ball as Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) defends in the first quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Wizards: The Look Ahead

The Washington Wizards clinched their first playoff birth since 2008 last week with a win over the Boston Celtics.  It was a big moment for the franchise moving forward, whose main goal of the season was to make it to the playoffs, but with the five games left in the season, the Wizards still have work to do in order to set up a favorable matchup in the first round.

The problem is though, what is the best matchup for the Wizards in the first round?

The Wizards will most likely end up being a sixth or a seventh seed when the playoffs start later this month. Their matchup Wednesday against the Charlotte Bobcats will have a big impact on where the Wizards end up.  The Wizards currently sit one game above the Bobcats in the standings.  Both teams have five games remaining.  The Wizards have a slightly easier schedule.  They will play the Bobcats at home, the Magic on the road, the Bucks, the Heat, and end the season at the Celtics.  NBA.com puts that at a strength of schedule of .3973.  In comparison, the Bobcats have a remaining strength of schedule of .4496.  However, with neither team facing a brutal schedule down the stretch, the game on Wednesday could determine which team ends up with the sixth or seventh seed.

A few weeks ago, it would have been a no-brainer.  The Wizards would have wanted to avoid the seven seed because with the seven seed meant facing either the Miami Heat or the Pacers.  At the time, those two teams were thought of as the by far the two best teams in the Eastern Conference and the entire league.  But a lot has changed in the last couple weeks.  The Pacers have completely collapsed.  The Pacers have lost seven of their last 10 games and have looked extremely average.  It appears the Heat are going to get the one seed so if the Wizards were to fall to the seventh seed, the Pacers would be their first round matchup.  If they get the sixth seed, the Wizards will most likely face either the Bulls or the Raptors.

So, what would be the ideal matchup for the Wizards?

The Wizards best matchup would be the Bulls, in my opinion.  The Bulls are a team most teams would not like to see in the playoffs because of their grind it out style, but of the three teams (Raptors, Bulls, Pacers), the Wizards have looked the best against the Bulls this season (2-1 against the Bulls on the year).  The biggest advantage the Wizards have over the Bulls is at the guard position.  The Bulls have no one who can stop John Wall and Bradley Beal consistently through a seven-game series.  Even though the Bulls just whooped the Wizards, 96-78 Saturday in D.C., it was a back-to-back for Washington, coming off an emotional 90-89 win over the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.  You can’t take too much away from that.

The Raptors and Pacers are both matchups the Wizards would struggle with.  The Wizards are 1-3 against the Raptors this year and 1-2 against the Pacers.  With Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors who have guards who can go toe-to-toe with Wall and Beal.  They can spread the Wizards out and attack the Wizards.  The Raptors have scored 107.3 points per game in the four meetings against the Wizards this year.  On the other hand, while the Pacers have looked like a middle of the road team for an extended period of time now, I still think they will figure it out at some point in the near future.  We saw how good they can be at the beginning of this year and last year’s playoffs so they have the ability to make a run if they get out of this slump.

These next five games are important for the Wizards as they look to find a groove heading into the playoffs as well as determining their first round matchup.  However, no matter who the Wizards face in the first round it will be a grind and all about matchups.

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