Orlando Magic cannot count out Washington Wizards in race to finish

The Orlando Magic have no excuse to miss the Playoffs when the season resumes. But the Washington Wizards will prove a dangerous and tough out.

With the NBA announcing its return-to-play plan and negotiations progressing toward an official restart to the season on July 30, the focus is once again on the Playoffs. The NBA will finish its season and crown a champion.

At every level though, there are playoff races to decide. Every team heading to Disney and the campus site will have something to play for.

When the season went on hiatus, the Orlando Magic held a 5.5-game lead with 17 games to play and faced one of the easier schedules remaining in the league by opponent win percentage. It would have taken a monumental collapse for the Magic to miss the Playoffs.

But the league’s return-to-play format forced a change. The final playoff spot in each conference is now up for grabs. There will be eight regular-season games once the season continues and a play-in series if necessary.

The Orlando Magic will have to hold off the Washington Wizards.

The Wizards will need to make up two games to force the play-in series. And if that happens, Washington will have to beat Orlando twice to advance.

The Magic have all the advantages. But this will be a tough road for Orlando.

Although Orlando did sweep the season series with Washington, the Wizards will be a different team this time around. The Magic will essentially be starting from scratch like everyone else. It is hard to count what happened in January today.

This will indeed be a race to the finish.

And the first place is to start is to recognize that when the season resumes in late July, the Magic and Wizards are most likely to be as healthy and whole as they have been all year. The three-month hiatus has given everyone a chance to heal and recover.

This time around, both teams are going to be near full strength. There should be little weight on the four games that were played earlier this season — after all, three of them happened before Jonathan Isaac got injured with Isaac getting hurt in the second quarter of the team’s third meeting.

The Magic and Wizards were depleted with injuries all year long. The Magic had a total of 14 different starting fives, while the Wizards had a total of 21 starting lineups.

As Washington gets healthier, the team starts to become more dangerous. The Wizards are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league. They shoot 37.2 percent from three as a team (third-best in the league), which allows them to spread out a defense.

The Wizards proved that in one of their earlier meetings with the Magic, bringing an 18-point deficit down to one in the fourth quarter — nearly erasing a 10-point deficit with three minutes to play.

Bradley Beal was a big part of that. He is having an All-NBA-caliber season, averaging 30.5 points per game. He is a flamethrower waiting to go off.

Beal is a player that can will a team and give them a chance to win. Beal has proven to be a star in this league. Containing Beal will be the key for Orlando to get past Washington. Really for any team to get past Washington.

Beal averaged 34.3 points per game and shot 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. He makes much of the offense going and his ability to work off the ball makes it very hard to defend him.

The Wizards took a lot of injuries though. The most notable in the short-term came from the injury to Thomas Bryant.

The big man was averaging 12.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game before a foot injury knocked him out for the season in January. The Wizards lacked a lot of size without him.

The biggest variable remains the player who has been out the entire season.

John Wall was reportedly looking good in the Wizards’ practices, scrimmaging with the G-League team and other veterans deep on Washington’s bench. He is not likely to play, but like with every other injured player, the door is at least slightly open.

Typically at this time of year, players are in offseason mode and playing to prepare for the next season.

John Wall, like Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, would have been for the seventh-place Brooklyn Nets, is an ultimate wild card.

Before Wall got injured, he averaged 20.7 points and 8.7 assists per game. This can add to a loaded Washington offense and will improve their defense. If Wall is available to play, it would take off some of the load from Beal’s shoulders.

Although Wall would boost Washington’s chances Beal would still be the best player on the court between both teams. Beal is an elite scorer that can go for 50 on any given night. In the three games that Beal played in, he averaged 34 points per game against Orlando.

The Magic have to be ready to play Washington on their terms. The Magic have to be able to stop the Wizards’ high-paced offense (sixth in pace in the NBA), or they will once again have to rely on their inconsistent offense.

But Washington has its own challenges.

Orlando has the fewest wins against teams with records better than .500 of any team entering the campus setting with five. Washington is not too far behind with only six.

The Wizards have also not put together any win streak this season longer than two games. Washington struggled to put together any kind of sustained success all year.

And while Washington is known for its strong offense, the team is 13th in the league in offensive rating at 111.0 points per 100 possessions. It is not as statistically prolific offense at all.

The Wizards’ defense is the worst in the league at 115.0 points allowed per 100 possessions. Washington literally tries to outscore its opponents.

It is a strategy that has had mixed results at best. That does not change how potent the team can be. But the Wizards are more potential than reality.

And with only eight games left in the season and two games to makeup, Washington now has an opportunity it probably would not have had otherwise.

Although there are challenges, there is no excuse for missing the playoffs. The Magic cannot lose to Washington and miss the playoffs.

Next: Orlando Magic's playoff goal is to steal a win again

The Magic have been given the advantage to keep their position and close out the Wizards. Orlando has to take advantage of their opportunities and make sure they close out the Wizards.