NBA Betting: Bradley Beal Has Washington Wizards In Hunt For Playoff Berth
Due to the incredibly top-heavy nature of both the NBA’s Eastern and Western Conferences, there is very little intrigue when it comes to playoff spots, despite the fact that teams have well over thirty games each left on their schedules. Out west, barring any epic collapses, seven of the eight seeds are pretty well wrapped up. The Grizzlies hold the eight-seed at the moment, but veteran clubs Portland and San Antonio are hanging around. Portland, in particular, looks intriguing as an eight-seed. It’s hard to see LeBron and the Lakers too thrilled that the reward for running away with the top spot is to have to face MVP-candidate Damian Lillard. In the East, the situation is a little more complicated, but the teams involved are frankly a little less interesting. The top-six teams are pretty well left to jockey for seeding, save for Milwaukee who will coast to the one-seed. Brooklyn and Orlando currently occupy the seven and eight slots, with a decent cushion. The Bulls and Wizards are currently tied for ninth, and they are three and a half games back of the Magic, and four games back of Brooklyn. Below Chicago and Washington, are a series of teams that seem to be trending toward the lottery. The Pistons are only a half-game back of ninth, but have to figure out what to do about Andre Drummond, and remain without Blake Griffin. The Hornets, Knicks, Cavs, and Hawks are done for. So, it looks like we have four teams competing for the last two spots. Brooklyn, Orlando, Chicago, and Washington. Hardly makes for the most exciting television, but identifying the teams who are going to continue to battle and those who are going to begin to look to the future, can provide value for bettors as the NBA season unfolds. To this end, let’s take a look at the Washington Wizards, and consider whether, despite a historically bad defense, and a 17-31 SU record, the team may just be able to turn things around.
Washington’s playoff chances have as much to do with the other teams around them potentially failing than how Washington itself performs. Brooklyn has been wildly inconsistent all season and once again will be without Kyrie Irving for an extended period. Orlando has dealt with a series of injuries throughout the campaign, and its offense has been absolutely brutal of late. Both of these teams are 3-7 SU in their last ten, and there is every reason to believe they will continue to struggle. The Magic, in particular, look susceptible to a free-fall. Over the last five games, the team has posted a laughable net rating of -14.4, dead last in the league.
This is hardly to suggest that the Wizards are responding by going on a tear. Washington is 4-6 SU over its last ten games. However, the team has won two games in a row, including a big win on Saturday against Brooklyn. A huge part of the improved play of late has been the motivation of Washington’s star player, Bradley Beal. If the Wizards do go on to capture a playoff berth, there’s little doubt that the moment things changed was when Beal found out he had been left off of the All-Star roster. Beal ranks sixth in scoring league-wide, third in the Eastern Conference. Per the Athletic, Beal is the first player since 1985 to average 28 PPG and not make the All-Star team. Beal’s supporters came out to lambast the decision, from his agent, his fiancé, to his organization. The outpouring of criticism for the decision seems to have refocused Beal. The player himself did not speak much on the issue, but did have this to say: “I’m a little pissed off about it, but I know how I am,” he said. “I was kinda expecting it, honestly. It’s disrespectful, but the real ones know. So, I’m just gonna keep competing. I’m gonna try to get my team in the playoffs, for sure. I don’t play for anybody else’s approval.” In the two games following the snub, Beal has been fantastic. He is averaging 34 PPG, 7.5 RPG, and 5.5 APG in this span, to go along with a plus/minus rating of +21 in the two wins. Importantly, Beal has gotten to the line at will. He attempted 15 free throws in each of these two games. This is a tell-tale sign of effort level, and if Beal is going to stay at this level of motivation, the Wizards are a completely different proposition. The fact is, Beal is the best player on any of the four teams discussed above, and if he’s locked in, the Wizards can go on a bit of a run.
While Washington is not a particularly good basketball team, in fairness, it has dealt with an incredible amount of injury issues this season. It’s very hard to take too much away from the team’s performance so far, as the lineup and rotation was so inconsistent. Now, Washington has started to get some bodies back, and some of the results have been quite positive. Thomas Bryant missed weeks with a foot injury, and has recently returned. Interestingly, Head Coach Scott Brooks has had Bryant come off the bench. Whether this holds remains to be seen, but the big man is having success as a reserve. In the team’s two recent wins, Bryant 19 PPG and has gone 16-for-22 from the field. When Bryant is playing well, he can be incredibly efficient, and is able to provide a necessary secondary scoring option for Beal and the Wizards.
The schedule sets up nicely for the Wizards to take advantage of its own improved play. The next four games all come at home, against Golden State, Dallas, Memphis, and the Bulls. The team does not have to deal with any back-to-backs. With the exception of the Grizzlies, these teams have all struggled somewhat of late. The Warriors have lost five of six, the Mavs two of three, and the Bulls have dropped three straight. Golden State is in the middle of a long road trip and should be there for the taking. Dallas will be without talisman Luka Doncic. Chicago will be at the tail end of a tough travel schedule. These are games where Washington should have an edge in both energy and focus. Also, while Washington’s offense has been great of late, the defense has remained frighteningly bad. It should help that none of these teams have been playing that well on offense over the last five games. The Mavs and Grizzlies rank 14th and 15th in offensive rating during that span, while the Warriors and Bulls come in at 23rd and 25th, respectively. The Wizards, have an offensive rating of 120.3 over the last five games, second-best in the NBA. Washington will certainly have to put up a ton of points to compensate for its defensive flaws, but these matchups are quite favorable.