The Washington Wizards have secured a spot in the opinion-splitting NBA play-in tournament and have instantly become a favorite to progress into the playoffs.

Washington ended the regular season with a 115-110 win against fellow playoff hopefuls, the Charlotte Hornets. They secured eighth seed in the process, which would have meant an automatic playoff spot in any other NBA season.

Despite finishing the regular season with a losing record (34-38), I reckon the Wizards are the most likely to progress from the Eastern Conference play-in tournament ahead of the Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets and even the Boston Celtics, who finished ahead of them in seventh.

PLAY-IN TOURNAMENT STRUCTURE

For those who are still unclear about how the play-in tournament works: seventh seed plays eighth seed, winner advances to the playoff as the seventh seed.

Loser gets a second chance as they play the winner of the game between nine and 10 to determine who gets the eighth spot at the playoffs. Got it?

In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics will play against the Washington Wizards tonight in a one-off game for a playoff spot, and I like Washington’s chances.

FAVORITES FOR A REASON

The Washington Wizards come into this game with the momentum of a strong finish to the regular season. They are up against a team that has won just five of their last 14 games and are missing their second best player, Jaylen Brown.

As a result, all the signs point to the Wizards picking up the W and advancing to the playoffs as the seventh seed (only to lose in the first round to the Brooklyn Nets).

And even if they lose in Boston, they still get a second chance according to the aforementioned play-in structure.

If they lose to the Celtics, Washington will play a second game against the winner of Indiana Pacers vs Charlotte Hornets.

The Wizards are more than likely to beat either of those teams and advance to the playoffs as the eighth seed (only to lose in the first round to the Philadelphia 76ers).

IMPRESSIVE TURN-AROUND

Up until the last few weeks, the Wizards never looked like anything other than a lottery team.

Injuries and Covid-19 contact tracing kept important players out for a long stretch of games earlier in the season.

Because of this, 49 games into the regular season, the Washington Wizards record was 17-32.

They played uninspiring basketball and displayed an over-reliance on Bradley Beal. There seemed to be no hope of them making the Playoffs at that point.

It took Russell Westbrook recovering from injury and acclimating to his relatively new surroundings to galvanize the Wizards.

Above all, Westbrook’s performances are the focal point for their revival and new-found chemistry.

WESTBROOK’S INFLUENCE

32-year Russel Westbrook played his best basketball since his OKC days, ending the regular season with 38 triple-doubles (yes, you read that right) in 65 games.

In addition, he surpassed Oscar Robertson to become the all-time triple-double leader in NBA history.

Westbrook ends the season with 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds and 11.7 assists per game. This is the fourth time in his career he has averaged a triple-double in a season.

A REAL TEAM EFFORT

As impressive as Westbrook has been this season, he’s not the only reason the Wizards are in the play-in tournament.

Therefore, let’s introduce the other half of the most lethal backcourt in the NBA (sorry Nets fans): Bradley Beal!

Once again, Beal has been crucial to the Wizards. His 31.3 points per game alone are more than enough proof.

He ends the regular season as the highest scorer in the East, 2nd only to Steph Curry in the league.

The efforts of guys like Rui Hachimura, Davis Bertans, Robin Lopez, Daniel Gafford and the rest of the Wizards’ roster also haven’t gone unnoticed.

With firepower like that, it’s difficult to see the Washington Wizards losing 2 straight games against any of the 3 other teams in the Eastern play-in tournament.

Do you think any of the Eastern Conference teams have a chance against the Wizards at the play-in tournament?

Drop your thoughts in the comments down below.

CELTICS’ CHANCES OF SURVIVING THE PLAY-IN TOURNAMENT APPEAR SLIM