All season long it has been presumed that the Eastern Conference was a Big 2 consisting of the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers and that the rest of the conference was essentially just filler. Indeed, Miami remains a favorite at 10-13 at Bovada to win the conference title a fourth straight season and Indiana is 6-5.
However, the recent struggles of those teams raises the possibility that another club could pull a surprise and win the East — plus what if LeBron James or Paul George suffers an injury? One of those surprise contenders could be the Washington Wizards, whom the Celtics visit Wednesday, April 2. The Wizards are 50-1 to win the conference title, something they haven’t done since 1979.
Washington will return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. The franchise hasn’t won a postseason series since 2005. That looks doable this season because Washington will likely finish either fifth or sixth in the East and thus avoid either Indiana or Miami until the conference semifinals. The Wizards would be more than capable of beating a Toronto, Chicago or Brooklyn in the first round. Washington is 3-0 against the Nets and 2-0 versus the Bulls but 1-3 against the Raptors.
That is, more than capable if healthy, which refers to Wizards big man Nene. He hasn’t played since Feb. 23 but was fortunate not to suffer a season-ending knee injury in that game in Cleveland as it looked bad at first. Instead it was a ligament strain and Nene expects to return for the final week of the regular season. The Wizards are a much better defensive team with the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Brazilian in the paint. He’s no slouch offensively, either, averaging 14.2 points and shooting 49.3 percent from the field.
The Wizards have a tremendously athletic backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wall leads the NBA in assists and averages a career-high 20.0 points per game. Wall, Beal (16.8 points per game), Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza each have hit at least 100 3-pointers and the Wizards rank No. 2 in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage. Marcin Gortat has become one of the Eastern Conference’s best centers , and his 32 double-doubles are the most for any Wizard in five years. Washington has beaten every team in the Eastern Conference at least once, the first time that’s happened in six years.
Boston has split two meetings with the Wizards, each side winning on the road. In the Celtics’ 113-111 overtime win January 22, Wall had his second career triple-double with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists but missed a potential winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. Boston’s top three guards missed that game; Rajon Rondo rested because it was the second of a back-to-back. Jeff Green blew up with a season-high 39 points and career-high eight 3-pointers. The Wizards and Celtics close the regular season against one another on April 16.