Washington Wizards' Schedule Breakdown and Record Predictions for December
Roughly one month into the regular season, it's safe to say the Washington Wizards are a good team. Just how good they are, though, is a lot tougher to pin down.
The Wizards are 9-5, good for second in the Eastern Conference. However, they've also beaten just one opponent with a winning record—the Milwaukee Bucks (against whom they're 2-0).
Fortunately, Washington's schedule gets tougher in December. So one month from now, we may finally be able to get a gauge whether or not the Wizards are a genuine title contender.
Let's take a look at just who Washington will be playing in December and what its record might look like heading into the new year.
Week 1: Dec. 1 to Dec. 7
Dec. 1 vs. Miami Heat
Dec. 3 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Dec. 5 vs. Denver Nuggets
Dec. 7 at Boston Celtics
Key Game: vs. Miami Heat
The Wizards open December with a fairly easy slate of games, and given Nene's recent injury issues, that stretch comes at the perfect time.
From the sound of things, Nene's injury isn't serious and he should be back in the lineup soon. Still, if he's at all slowed by foot problems, Washington could be in some real trouble.
The Wizards win on the strength of their defense, and Nene is their best overall defender. He can guard most 4s and 5s, is a terrific pick-and-roll defender and he's been Roy Hibbert-esque at protecting the rim this season.
The Wizards allow 108.2 points per 100 possessions when he's not on the floor compared to 91.3 when he is. That's kind of a big swing.
Being without (or with a limited) Nene won't be a huge issue against subpar offensive teams like the Celtics or Lakers, but it could be against Denver and particularly Miami.
The Nuggets had a slow start to the season, but they've scored at a top-five rate over their past five games. They also attack the rim a ton, and without Nene, locking down the paint could prove difficult.
Bosh is one of the best all-around players in the league, and the Wizards might have to come up with some creative sets to defend him. They simply don't have a player who can handle Bosh's combination of perimeter shooting and face-up attacking, even if Nene is available.
Should Washington squeeze past Miami, it'll be positioned to run the table in the first week of December. Beating the Heat (pun not intended, I promise) won't be easy, but here's to thinking this Wizards team is capable of it.
Projected Record: 4-0
Week 2: Dec. 8 to Dec. 14
Dec. 8 vs. Boston Celtics
Dec. 10 at Orlando Magic
Dec. 12 vs Los Angeles Clippers
Dec. 14 vs Utah Jazz
Key Game: vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Out of this week's slate of opponents, the Clippers are the only squad that should pose a serious threat to the Wizards. Each of these games has the potential to get interesting though, and Boston in particular could give Washington some problems.
As mentioned earlier, the Celtics aren't a particularly good offensive team, but they are a weird one.
The Boston bigs shoot a huge percentage of the team's threes—the majority of them if you consider Jeff Green a big. Only Kelly Olynyk is really dangerous from outside, but their willingness to pull the trigger alone is enough to bend defenses in uncomfortable ways.
However, those stretch bigs make the back-to-back with Boston good preparation for the Magic. Tobias Harris and Channing Frye are also willing to fire from beyond the arc, and both are shooting over 40 percent for the year.
That, along with double-double machine Nikola Vucevic, is enough to make the Magic dangerous, but it would be a shocker if Washington didn't run away with this one. Orlando turns the ball over a ton and struggles to defend the three-point line—the latter of which is a killer against a passer like John Wall.
Los Angeles is the big one, even if it isn't a conference game.
The Wizards have looked impressive this season, but again, they haven't had to face many good teams. How they perform against the Clippers could say a lot about whether they're legitimate contenders (as much as any one regular-season game can, anyway).
The Clippers have been only so-so by their lofty standards, but they still boast one of the best offenses in the league and can light defenses up from outside.
To win this one, the Wizards need to attack the paint. Washington—particularly John Wall—has a tendency to settle for mid-range jumpers instead of taking it to the rim. The Clippers are very poor at defending the basket, and if the Wizards don't attack them there, they probably don't walk away with a victory.
That just leaves Utah, which, truth be told, probably doesn't have much of a shot. The Jazz have some promising players, but they're a mess defensively and have beaten exactly one team with a winning record.
Projected Record: 3-1 (Los Angeles)
Week 3: Dec. 15 to Dec. 21
Dec. 16 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves
Dec. 19 at Miami Heat
Dec. 21 vs. Phoenix Suns
Key Game: vs. Phoenix Suns
The Wizards' December schedule slows down heading into the week of Dec. 15—they actually don't have another four-game week for the rest of the month.
The Timberwolves are a rebuilding team with a young, athletic core. That's made them surprisingly fun to watch despite their 3-10 record, but it doesn't give them much of a chance to beat the Wizards.
Minnesota's lost both Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin to injury, and if that alone isn't enough to put the Timberwolves in a big hole against Washington, they're also far and away the NBA's worst team when it comes to protecting the rim.
The T-Wolves are allowing opponents to shoot a staggering 66 percent at the basket, and only the New Orleans Pelicans give up more shots in the area. John Wall, Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce should feast on that.
Following another contest with the Heat (which we've already looked over), the Wizards will take on an extremely dangerous Phoenix squad. The Suns are a very good, versatile offensive team, and their depth will be tough for Washington to deal with.
Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas make up the deepest backcourt in the league. The Suns virtually always have an elite shot-creator on the floor, and their bench units have actually outperformed the starters for most of this season.
That spells trouble for the Wizards, who have been bludgeoned by opponents when the starters (especially John Wall) take a breather.
Phoenix just seems like a bad matchup for Washington, and the Heat could once again prove tricky—especially if Dwyane Wade is actually healthy. Still, Washington should be able to escape this week with a winning record.
Projected Record: 2-1 (Phoenix)
Week 4: Dec. 22 to Dec. 28
Dec. 23 vs. Chicago Bulls
Dec. 25 at New York Knicks
Dec. 27 vs. Boston Celtics
Key Game: vs. Chicago Bulls
Let's gloss over yet another game against the Celtics and focus on the Bulls and Knicks.
The Bulls were expected to be an Eastern Conference juggernaut this season, but they've experienced a slow (for them) start due to injuries and some surprisingly average defense. However, they're also still breathing down Washington's neck in the East playoff race, so it would be wise not to take them lightly.
It'll be really interesting to see how Washington chooses to attack Chicago. The Bulls play gigantic lineups, and the Wizards might think about throwing out some smaller groups to counter that—particularly against the Joakim Noah-Pau Gasol pairing.
Washington hasn't played small much this season, but neither Noah nor Gasol have a chance at chasing down a stretch 4 on the perimeter. Even just trotting Drew Gooden out for a few minutes could force the Bulls to scrap their top frontcourt combination for stretches (though it could obviously cost the Wizards defensively).
The other thing to watch here is rebounding.
Chicago has been shockingly poor on the glass. The Bulls are collecting just 72.5 percent of their opponents' misses, tied for the fifth-worst rate in the league. Washington is only so-so on the offensive glass, but should it choose to stick with its big lineups for most of the game, it could hurt Chicago.
The Wizards beat up on the Knicks earlier in the year, and there's no reason anything should change in December.
While Jose Calderon's return from injury should give New York an offensive boost, it's still an awful defensive team that lives mostly on mid-range jumpers. That's not going to do it against Washington.
Projected Record: 3-0
Dec. 29 at Houston Rockets
Dec. 30 at Dallas Mavericks
Key Game: at Houston Rockets
Unfortunately, Washington's year ends with a brutal road back-to-back against two of the best teams in league.
Over the course of just one year, the Rockets have switched from an offensive powerhouse that plays mediocre defense into a defensive powerhouse with a mediocre offense.
Houston has been the best defensive team in the league this season, and they don't have many weaknesses on that end. Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley are both elite defenders at their positions, James Harden is actually trying this year, and Dwight Howard has been obliterating ball-handlers at the rim.
To make matters worse, Washington doesn't match up all that well with Houston.
The Rockets live on three-pointers, shots at the rim and free throws. The Wizards can defend the rim, but they're average at defending and preventing three-pointers and send opponents to the line a lot. Assuming everyone's healthy, Houston has a clear advantage.
The Dallas game is more interesting. As Grantland's Zach Lowe recently pointed out, the Mavericks are on pace to smash the all-time league record for offensive efficiency. The Wizards defended them well in their most recent matchup (a 105-102 loss on Nov. 19), but they'll have to do even better this time.
The big problem is Monta Ellis, who erupted for 34 points in their last meeting.
Ellis is simply too quick for Bradley Beal, and the Wizards can't risk John Wall checking him and getting into foul trouble. Washington might be forced to play Garrett Temple, an offensive zero, for long stretches in an attempt to keep Ellis in check.
The Wizards could certainly win either (or both) of these games, but this is a killer back-to-back.
Projected Record: 0-2 (Houston, Dallas)
The prediction here is that the Wizards go 12-4 through December. Which, on its face, would be a terrific month for any team.
But as weird as it sounds, Washington's overall record might not be as important as proving it can beat one of the league's contenders. It would be unwise to put too much stock in the Wizards' record against elite teams right now, but at a certain point, it will become a concern.
With a few victories in December, Washington can both quell those concerns and set itself up nicely for the new year.
Projected December Record: 12-4