- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bradley Beal has said he doesn’t know who is coming up on the Washington Wizards‘ schedule. He is often caught in the season’s jet wash, part of a league that has had players in the past say they wake up and don’t know which city they are in.

Monday’s opponent is apparent. The Wizards travel to Boston to face the combative and second-seeded Celtics, who are 1 1/2 games in front of third-place Washington after Boston’s ugly Sunday afternoon loss in Philadelphia. A trip to face Boston, an opponent Washington nearly had a postgame melee with this season and does not like, is a reminder of what is at stake and what remains. Washington is, at the least, trying to hold its spot. To do so, it will be in search of results against perhaps the toughest schedule portion of the season.

A path to 50 wins after the All-Star break was clear. Washington needed to handle the sub-.500 teams that remained and pluck a win or two against much tougher opponents. Instead, the Wizards‘ wobbling defense has caused it to lose four times to teams without a winning record since returning from the schedule break Feb. 16. It is 9-6 since the All-Star Game.

“We might need to get rid of All-Star break,” Beal joked last week. “It’s exactly what happened. It’s like right after break, we had our mental lapses (in past seasons). I know we’re not the only team that goes through it. It’s a mental thing. We’ve got to be ready each and every night and get back to the way we were playing before.”

The flow from before the break has long subsided. Washington, which is ninth in offensive rating and 19th in defensive rating, has careened through the last 15 games. Even during a four-game winning streak on the road, the Wizards trailed by double-digits on a nightly basis before yanking themselves back into the game.

What remains will not be easy. The final 13-game run includes games at Boston, at Cleveland, at Golden State, at the Los Angeles Clippers and at Utah. Combined, those teams have a .660 winning percentage at the start of Sunday. Also of note are a home game against the Atlanta Hawks and playing two of the last three games against the Miami Heat. If it wasn’t for Miami, the Wizards would be the season’s largest resurrection. But, the Heat was 13-30 on Jan. 19. Coming into Sunday, it is 21-5 since, moving it into the seventh seed and causing knees to quake among the upper tier of the conference. At the moment, no team in the top four seeds would be pleased to deal with Miami in the opening round of the playoffs.

Which is among the reasons holding at least the No. 3 seed is crucial for Washington. It is 27-10 at home and just 15-17 on the road. Being in the top four seeds would give it homecourt advantage in the first round. Staying out of the No. 4 slot allows it to avoid Cleveland until the conference finals, should both teams advance that far.

“It’s going to go by fast, that much I do know,” Beal said. “Especially after the West Coast trip. Those last couple games, they seem to fly by.”

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