Washington Wizards Schedule Breakdown and Record Predictions for January 2015

Luke Petkac@@LukePetkacFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2015

Washington Wizards Schedule Breakdown and Record Predictions for January 2015

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    The Wizards have a tough January stretch on the horizon.
    The Wizards have a tough January stretch on the horizon.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Each game means a little bit more now that the NBA season has hit the new year.

    Teams are jockeying for playoff position every night, and the league's best squads are starting to round into form. Their rotations have become more defined, and they have a general sense of the best way to attack opponents on both ends. You can count the Washington Wizards among that handful of teams.

    It's a good thing, too, because the Wizards are heading into a brutal January. Let's take a look at Washington's schedule this month, break down each matchup and make some predictions.

Week One: Jan. 1 to Jan. 7

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    The Wizards will have to scheme up a defense for a healthy Kevin Durant.
    The Wizards will have to scheme up a defense for a healthy Kevin Durant.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Jan. 2 at Oklahoma City Thunder

    Jan. 3 at San Antonio Spurs

    Jan. 5 at New Orleans Pelicans

    Jan. 7 vs New York Knicks

    Key Game: at Oklahoma City Thunder

    The Thunder's 16-17 record is deceiving, to say the least. When healthy (as it is now), OKC is one of the best teams in the league. The Wizards will have to play close to perfect basketball to pull this one out.

    Because they've dealt with so many injuries, the Thunder are still sorting through lineup combinations, and Washington can take advantage of that.

    The OKC starters have been unbelievable, outscoring opponents by 38.4 points per 100 possessions. But if the Wizards can weather that storm, their bench might be able to push them ahead.

    OKC is a terrific offensive rebounding club. Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Russell Westbrook are all elite rebounders at their respective positions. Washington has been great on the defensive glass this season, so something is bound to give when the two teams meet.

    Getting the Spurs on the second night of a back-to-back is a tough break, but San Antonio has been uncharacteristically mediocre recently. The Spurs are just 8-10 in December, and head coach Gregg Popovich has been forced to throw out some whacky lineup combinations in an attempt to rest his players.

    They're still the defending champs, though, and they're terrifying when they start cooking offensively. The Wizards will need to wall off the paint and force the Spurs to take tough shots from mid-range—something San Antonio is very good at avoiding.

    Not so coincidentally, those same mid-range jumpers are exactly what Washington needs to steer clear of offensively. The Wizards tend to settle for long twos far too easily; if they do that against San Antonio (which defends mid-range jumpers extremely well), they'll be toast.

    Washington's road trip ends in New Orleans. Anthony Davis tore the Wizards up when the two teams last met, though Washington was, admittedly, without Nene.

    If he can help contain Davis even just a bit, the Wizards should walk away with a win. New Orleans has next to zero shooters, and Washington should be able to pack the paint and coax it into some tough shots.

    As for the Knicks...well, let's just say there aren't a lot of threatening 5-29 teams. Keeping Carmelo Anthony in check is obviously important, but he'd have to go bananas for New York to have a real shot in this one.

    Projected Record: 3-1 (L: Thunder)

Week Two: Jan. 8 to Jan. 14

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    It doesn't get much better than John Wall vs. Derrick Rose.
    It doesn't get much better than John Wall vs. Derrick Rose.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Jan. 9 vs. Chicago Bulls

    Jan. 11 at Atlanta Hawks

    Jan. 13 vs. San Antonio Spurs

    Jan. 14 at Chicago Bulls

    Key Game: at Chicago Bulls

    Things get no easier for Washington in the second week of January.

    They see the Bulls twice, at home and on the road, and winning both games could be huge in terms of playoff seeding.

    The Bulls dominate the paint with the Joakim Noah-Pau Gasol-Taj Gibson trio. Only the Sacramento Kings get to the free-throw line more than Chicago does thanks to those guys, and there's almost never a point where at least one of them isn't on the floor.

    That problem is compounded by the fact that Washington sends opponents to the charity stripe a lot. If Nene or Marcin Gortat get into foul trouble, the Wizards don't have a prayer against the Chicago bigs.

    It's worth keeping an eye on Nikola Mirotic, who's been a part of a lot of fun bench units for Chicago. He's the only Bulls big who can drag rim protectors out of the paint, and Washington might think about going small (something it almost never does) to keep up with him.

    The Washington bench should get extended run against Chicago. Rasual Butler's shooting will be essential, as will Andre Miller's post game. Aaron Brooks is having a fantastic season, but he doesn't stand a chance against Miller on the low block. If Miller can drag him into the post repeatedly, it'll be worth taking a defensive hit to have him out there.

    Atlanta is another top-notch team, and its motion offense presents a different set of problems than Chicago's.

    The big threat is Kyle Korver, who has been just ridiculous this season. Korver is shooting 52 percent from three and has been one of the league's most efficient scorers, period. It wouldn't be surprising to see Garrett Temple get extended burn in an attempt to keep him in check. The Wizards don't want Bradley Beal chasing him around screens all night.

    Korver isn't the only shooting threat the Hawks are packing. Atlanta takes a ton of threes, and it often throws out lineups of five willing shooters. Keeping up with Paul Millsap and Pero Antic on the perimeter will be important. This is another game where the Wizards will have to think hard about going small for long stretches.

    Offensively, the Wizards need to attack the rim. The Hawks have done a surprisingly solid job protecting the basket this season, but they don't have a single elite rim protector. If the Wizards can get into the paint consistently, especially with John Wall-Gortat pick-and-rolls, they'll do a lot of damage.

    Projected Record: 2-2 (L: Bulls, Spurs)

Week Three: Jan. 15 to Jan. 21

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    Nene's defense will be critical for Washington in January.
    Nene's defense will be critical for Washington in January.Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Jan. 16 vs. Brooklyn Nets

    Jan. 17 at Brooklyn Nets

    Jan. 19 vs. Philadelphia 76ers

    Jan. 21 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

    Key Game: at Brooklyn Nets

    This is the easiest stretch in January. The Thunder are always tough. But a back-to-back with the Nets and a home game against the 76ers don't exactly scream "danger."

    That's not to say that the Wizards should take Brooklyn lightly, of course. It's a decidedly average team, but it has some dangerous weapons, starting with Mason Plumlee.

    Plumlee doesn't have much of a reputation, but he's been nuts over the past month. He's destroying teams in the pick-and-roll, slapping up 20-10 games and dunking just about everything in sight. The Wizards bigs are great at snuffing out pick-and-rolls, but the key to shutting down Plumlee might be Wall.

    Wall's been arguably the best defensive point guard in the league this season. If he can pressure Deron Williams on pick-and-rolls, Plumlee won't have a chance to get going.

    Joe Johnson is the other big concern. Quietly, Johnson is having a strong season, and his ability to score on the low block could spell trouble for Beal. This might be another game in which it's worth floating Temple some minutes, especially if Johnson gets rolling in the post.

    Brooklyn has virtually zero good wing shooters outside of Johnson. If the Wizards can keep up with him, they should be able to really pack the paint and make life miserable for the Nets' ball-handlers.

    Honestly, there's not much to say about the 76ers. They're bad, and unless the Wizards screw up horribly, Washington should run away with an easy win.

    Maybe the only interesting thing about this game will be how Randy Wittman doles out minutes. He gave DeJuan Blair some time in a blowout loss against the Dallas Mavericks, and Blair responded with nine points and five rebounds in 12 minutes. It would be nice to see him do something similar against Philadelphia.

    The final game of the week is at home against OKC, which again, will be tough. But the Thunder haven't beaten Washington on the road since the 2010-11 season, and the Wizards always play them close.

    Projected Record: 4-0

Week Four: Jan. 22 to Jan. 28

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    The Wizards are going to have to work to keep Damian Lillard in check.
    The Wizards are going to have to work to keep Damian Lillard in check.Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Jan. 24 at Portland Trail Blazers

    Jan. 25 at Denver Nuggets

    Jan. 27 at Los Angeles Lakers

    Jan. 28 at Phoenix Suns

    Key Game: at Portland Trail Blazers

    There are four games in the final full week of January, starting with the Portland Trail Blazers.

    The Blazers are a bit similar to the Hawks in the sense that they can pretty much shoot from everywhere. That's trouble, but Washington is lucky in that Robin Lopez should still be out with injury by the time the game rolls around.

    That takes away Portland's biggest pick-and-roll threat and makes defending all those shooters a whole lot easier.

    Lopez's (assumed) absence should also open up the rim for Wall and company. He's far and away the Trail Blazers' best rim protector, and the Wizards should be able to do a lot of damage there with him out. They cannot afford to settle for mid-range jumpers against Portland, one of the league's stingiest defensive teams.

    It should be a lot of fun watching Wall and Damian Lillard go head-to-head. As was mentioned earlier, Wall has been a defensive bulldog this season. Lillard is a killer on off-the-bounce pick-and-roll threes, and Wall's going to have to fight hard through screens to stick with him.

    The Nuggets and Lakers won't pose nearly that kind of challenge. Denver is a decent team, but it's been hit hard by injuries and has looked clueless defensively recently.

    Ty Lawson is one of the league's most underrated players and is the source of just about all of Denver's offense. But so long as the Wizards are able to corral him—especially in transition—they should have no problem coming out on top.

    The same goes for the Lakers. They have a few weapons, but nothing to really threaten the Wizards with. Nick Young is an outstanding shooter, Ed Davis is a pick-and-roll threat and Kobe Bryant—despite having a mostly awful season—can still light it up. However, they're also the worst defensive team in the league by a mile.

    Phoenix, on the other hand, is very dangerous. The Suns had an up-and-down December, but head coach Jeff Hornacek has started to piece together how to best use his roster. Phoenix has recently tinkered with a three-guard lineup featuring Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. It's destroying teams.

    The Wizards could go small to try to match up with the Suns' guards and stretch bigs, but the better option might just be to stick with their standard lineups. Nene and Gortat should be able to bully the Suns bigs down low, and the Washington guards can smoke Thomas defensively.

    Projected Record: 3-1 (L: Trail Blazers)

Rest of the Month

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    Jonas Valanciunas can be a handful on the low block.
    Jonas Valanciunas can be a handful on the low block.Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    Jan. 31 vs. Toronto Raptors

    The Wizards only have one more January game, and it's a big one.

    The Raptors are currently the top team in the Eastern Conference, and they dismantled Washington 103-84 when the two met in early November.

    Toronto boasts the league's second-best offense, and it can hurt teams in a ton of different ways on that end. The Raptors have plenty of shooters, bigs who command a lot of attention down low and one of the NBA's best point guards in Kyle Lowry.

    They're also extremely deep. Their bench units have been productive, and Lou Williams in particular is having a great season. Williams is launching (and making) pick-and-roll threes at crazy rates, and Toronto has been awesome with him on the floor.

    Not to sound like a broken record, but once again, it's important that the Wizards attack the rim and not settle for jumpers. Toronto protects the rim well, but it also fouls quite a bit.

    The Raptors are also, somewhat surprisingly, one of the worst teams in the league at hitting the defensive glass. If Wall, Paul Pierce and Washington's other ball-handlers can get to the basket at a decent clip, it should open up a lot of lanes for offensive rebounding.

    Projected Record: 0-1


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    It's high time for the Wizards to beat some of the East's best teams.
    It's high time for the Wizards to beat some of the East's best teams.Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    The prediction here is that the Wizards go 12-5 in January. That's good for a winning percentage of .705, almost right in line with their season average.

    It'll be interesting to see how the Wizards fare against the elite teams on their schedule. Washington is clearly a good team, but it's only beaten a handful of the league's best squads. It's also dropped each of the games it's played against Atlanta, Chicago and Toronto—the East's other top teams.

    The Wizards' overall body of work is solid, but it'd be nice to see them take a few from the best in the East. Here's to thinking that will come to fruition in January.

    Projected Record: 12-5

    All statistics accurate as of 1/2/2015 and courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball-Reference unless stated otherwise.