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Can the Washington Wizards Avoid Another Slow Start?

August 24th, 2014 at 12:23 PM
By Matt Graber

The Washington Wizards, for all their talent, aren't exactly known for starting the season off on the right foot. Year after year, the team tends to stumble out of the gate, posting disappointing results and losing winnable games while displaying signs of dysfunction. During the 2011-2012 lockout shortened season, the Wizards started out with eight straight losses and didn't register double digit wins until March en route to a 20-46 record. The 2012-2013 squad got off to an abysmal 0-12 start without John Wall and had the NBA's worst record for much of the first half of the season. Even last year's playoff team experienced some early season trouble, as the team couldn't climb above .500 until February. These slow starts have tempered fan expectations and have killed the team's momentum, forcing them to come from behind in the standings and dashing their playoff hopes. Fortunately, this year could signal a turnaround, as a favorable early-season schedule could actually see the Wizards pull of a rare early-season run of success.

The Wizards will open their season in Miami against the Heat in a tough but winnable game before traveling to Orlando for a likely victory against the Magic. The schedule really opens up after that. The Wizards will play their home opener against the Bucks, the team with the NBA's worst record last season, followed by a string of manageable games against the Magic, Knicks, Pistons, and the depleted Pacers. Tilts against the Raptors and Mavericks should present more of a challenge but are definitely winnable. By the time Lebron and the Cavaliers visit DC on November 21, the Wizards could easily be well above .500.

Games against the Bucks, Lakers, Nuggets, Celtics, Magic, Jazz and Timberwolves follow during the lead up to the marquee Christmas Day game against the Knicks. By that point, the Wizards could have a very strong record, as the only teams they would be expected to lose to prior to that game would be the Cavs, Bulls and Clippers. If they win the games they should win, manage a few wins against solid teams like the Hawks, Mavs and Raptors, and maybe pull of a couple upsets, the Wizards should be in a nice position in the East standings.

Of course, that's still a big maybe, as the Wizards should have had much better starts the last few seasons but underachieved. But this team feels different. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Nene are all healthy, and the team should be full of confidence following an appearance in the East semis and a major bump in national recognition. They should be favored to win the majority of their games, and if they play well they have the talent to beat anyone in the league. That first part is the key; if the Wizards hope to earn home court advantage in a tougher East, they need to pad their record by beating sub-par competition. They can't afford to blow easy games against lottery teams, and they can't get off to another 8-9 or 14-15 start. If they can navigate what looks to be a friendly schedule, this team can win 50 games.

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