Many people believed that the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors would meet in the second round of the playoffs with the right to play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals on the line.
That vision appears to be taking flight with the Celtics and Raptors sitting at second and third respectively in the conference as we head into February, but the Washington Wizards are hot on their tails and they’re a team you don’t want to forget about.
Fourth place Washington is just half a game behind Toronto and two games behind Boston, which is even more remarkable because they began the regular season 2-8 to go along with rumors that they were ready to blow up their roster and ship out All-Star point guard John Wall. They’re now 27-12 since their start and they’re even 2-1 against the Celtics.
The Wizards are showing absolutely no signs of slowing down and they could wind up finding themselves breaking up the two Atlantic division foes shortly. Washington is playing their best basketball right now – having won ten of their last 11 – and only one win during their current six game victory streak has even been within ten points.
Nobody can ignore the Wizards anymore. They’re playing the best basketball in the east right now – destroying any team that gets in their way over the past few weeks – and now they’re in reasonable striking distance of the second and third seeds.
Wall is a huge reason for this quick turnaround. Western Conference names like James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook have been dominating MVP talks all season, but Wall has a real case right now to be the first Eastern Conference name mentioned in the conversation.
Isaiah Thomas has had his name come up in some of these talks after a great month of January, but a lot of it is because he’s scoring a lot of points and scoring is sexy to people. Wall is creating 24.4 points off assists per game to go along with a career best 22.8 PPG this year, making the 47.2 points he accounts for per night above the 45.2 points that Thomas accounts for with his assists added in. On the other end of the floor, Thomas is the defensive weak link in the Celtics starting five while Wall – a Second Team All-Defense Selection in 2015 who is currently leading the NBA in steals – in one of the best defenders on the Wizards, who are also allowing less points per game as a team compared to Boston.
Washington will be tested before the All-Star break comes around so they’ll be really interesting to watch. They have both the Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder next week as a home-and-home against the Indiana Pacers plus they play the Golden State Warriors coming out of the break with a home-and-home against Toronto shortly after that. If they’re still red hot coming out of this, then opponents really do need to be on high alert.