John Wall told the Washington Post's Mike Wise that the players still think making the playoffs this season is possible. I've seen some Twitter buzz about the Wizards and the playoffs. A co-worker just asked me if it was possible for the Wizards to make the playoffs -- this season.
The reason for the sudden optimism: Wall is back in the lineup, and the Wizards have actually won a few games -- 5-3 in their last 8, 4-3 with Wall in the lineup.
Is it possible? Well...yeah...in a technical way. I mean, they haven't been mathematically eliminated yet, so it's possible. Is it likely? Umm, the words that come to mind are "not very damn."
But, let's remember that way back when the Redskins were 3-6, I estimated they had a 1% chance of winning out and reaching the post-season. And they threaded that needle. A comparable run for an NBA team would be a 35-36 game winning streak. The longest winning streak in NBA history: 33 games.
However, the sheer number of NBA games means the Wizards don't actually have to win 33+ in a row. They'd have to make a historic turnaround, but they wouldn't have to break records for excellence.
So, anyway, let's look at some actual numbers. The Wizards record currently stands at 9-31. Based on current records and league history, I'm projecting that 40 wins will be necessary to win the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference this year. So, with a bit of math we can see that Washington would need to go 31-11 in their remaining games to reach 40 wins.
Before we just dismiss the notion, let's look at the team's recent play. Since Wall returned to the lineup, the record is 4-3 -- a winning percentage of .571. Small sample size and all that, but that translates to a 47-win team over a full season. Marked improvement. Apply that winning percentage to Washington's remaining games and they'd finish the season with a 24-18 "rush" and a 33-49 record. Which would miss the playoff target by 7 games.
Let's dispense with "realistic optimism" for a moment and get fanciful. Since Wall returned, Washington has an efficiency differential of +5.1 per 100 possessions. Run it through the Pythagorean formula to estimate a team's expected winning percentage and I come up with .669.
That's even better than .571 -- we're talking 55 wins over an 82-game schedule. Apply THAT to their remaining games and I come up with a finishing run of 28-14, which gives them a final record of 37-45. Doh! Still three games short of the target.
As things stand now, the Wizards would have to win 73.8% of their remaining games to have a shot at reaching the playoffs. This season, only three teams have a winning percentage that good or better: the Thunder, Spurs and Clippers.
Making the playoffs isn't impossible, but it's highly improbable. And, not shockingly, it gets more improbable every time they lose.