- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2019

The stretch after the NBA All-Star break is commonly referred to as the league’s “second half.” But in reality, there are just 25-or-so games left for teams before the end of the season.

For the Washington Wizards, they’re approaching now-or-never territory.

Three games back of the playoff race, Washington (24-34) has 24 games remaining to make a postseason push. Entering Friday’s game against the Charlotte Hornets, the Wizards are 11th in the Eastern Conference — meaning they’ll have to leapfrog three teams to reach the playoffs.

Here’s what has to go right in order to do so:

Clean the glass, stop 3s

Coach Scott Brooks identified two areas the Wizards must improve on moving forward — rebounding and stopping the 3-pointer. Washington ranks among the league’s worst in both categories. But Brooks said he thinks his team can improve on the glass, given they added forwards Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker at the trade deadline. In four games with the Wizards, Portis and Parker are averaging each 7.3 and 7.5 rebounds per game, respectively.

“Bobby is great rebounder and we’re both trying to bring that aspect,” Parker said.

That being said, their arrival hasn’t completely solved those problems as Washington has been out-rebounded in all four of those outings. They’re 2-2 in that span.

As for stopping the 3-pointer, the Wizards are giving up far too many wide open looks. According to NBA.com, the Wizards‘ opponents have hit 411 3-pointers this season in which the closest defender was six or more feet away — fifth-most in the NBA.

In general, the Wizards rank dead last in 3-point defense as teams are hitting 37.6 percent of their looks against Washington.

“We give up such a high percentage,” Brooks said.

Get on a hot streak

After a frustrating loss to the Toronto Raptors before the All-Star break, star Bradley Beal deadpanned the Wizards were going to have to score more points than the other team to start turning things around.

Talk about a bold take.

Beal’s frustration aside, the Wizards are going to have to string some wins together if they want to gain ground. Since the start of the new year, Washington is just 10-11 — which won’t cut it.

Consider if the Detroit Pistons and the Miami Heat — two teams ahead of the Wizards in the standings — play exactly .500 basketball the rest of the way, the Wizards would need to go 16-8 to finish with a better record (40-42 ahead of 39-43). There’s a possibility, of course, Detroit and Miami finish with less than 39 wins. But if either finish with, say, 37 wins, then the Wizards must still go 14-10 to jump them.

Detroit holds the tiebreaker over Washington, while Miami and Washington still have a game to play to decide their tiebreaker.

But it could be possible. According to Tankathon.com, the Wizards have the sixth-easiest schedule remaining.

Continue to ride Beal

When the Wizards are at their best, it’s often Beal leading the way. Over a 12-game stretch from late December to late January, the Wizards went 9-3 behind Beal’s 27.4 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game.

The 25-year-old has shown he’s capable of handling the extra attention that comes when playing without star John Wall. He’s averaging 28 points per game in February.

It may be unfair for the Wizards to depend solely on their best player, but we’ve seen other situations in the NBA in which stars have carried their squad. Houston’s James Harden — averaging 36.6 points per game in an injury-riddled season for the Rockets — is an MVP candidate because of it.

The Wizards have already leaned heavily on Beal this season — he’s playing a career-high 37.2 minutes per game. But they’ll need him for this final stretch.

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