If you’re looking for an undervalued asset to invest in, keep an eye on the Washington Wizards. Yes, the Wizards at 13-19. The Wiz recently climbed out of the Eastern Conference basement, and they’re heading into the second half of the season with a chance to compete for a playoff spot.
The top-heavy Eastern Conference includes the Philadelphia 76ers (23-12), Brooklyn Nets (23-13), and Milwaukee Bucks (21-13). But after the top-tier teams, there’s a huge drop off into a deep well of mediocrity. The East is loaded with teams hovering around .500. Only four games in the loss column separate the fourth-best team, the NY Knicks (18-17) and the team ranked #13, the Cleveland Cavs (14-21).
The Wizards are currently ranked #12 in the East, but are within striking distance of the #8 seed.
The Wizards can’t win the NBA championship if they don’t qualify for the playoffs. At least one bettor has a huge stake in the Wizards making a title run. A couple of weeks ago, a bettor at BetMGM made waves when he fired away at an NBA futures wager. If the Wizards win the 2021 NBA Championship, the bettor banks $5 million. Whoever made that bet is super excited right now about the Wizards’ turnaround.
BB and RWB in DC
The Wizards aren’t a team with a low payroll that’s serving as a minor league system for the elite teams in the NBA. They have two bonafide superstars and are loaded with young talent in the nation’s capital. The Wizards have the NBA’s leading scorer with Bradley Beal (33.2 ppg), and Russell Westbrook nearly averages a triple-double again this season with 19.9 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 9.6 assists per game.
“It’s fun playing with those guys because they’re great players, BB and Russ,” said Garrison Mathews. “They’re some of the best competitors I’ve ever played with. Russell’s intensity, nobody can really match that. He’s a different breed, man.”
The high-octane Wizards have a lethal offense averaging 114.8 ppg (ranked #7), but their lackluster defense is what got them in trouble for most of the season, especially after they lost starting center Thomas Bryant. The Wiz’s porous defense allows 119.9 ppg, the second-worst in the NBA. Only the Sacramento Kings have a worse defense.
It’s no surprise that the much-improved Wizards are also playing much better defense, especially in the fourth quarter. Sometimes losing teams lack the killer instinct they need in the fourth quarter in order to finish off opponents and lock up victories. That’s what typically separates winning cultures and losing cultures.
“We haven’t done anything and that’s what I keep telling our guys,” said Beal. “We need to build off the games that we’ve won and keep that same energy on the defensive end.”
In the last two weeks, the Wizards held late-game leads and shut down opponents in crunch time. If they can continue to play with that late-game intensity, then they’ll be tough to fend off for a playoff spot.
Ugly Start, Great Late February
Before the season began, the Wizards made headlines in Washington when they traded John Wall and first-round picks to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Westbrook.
The Wizards started the season 3-12 and bottomed out at 6-17 in mid-February. Since then, Westbrook and Beal finally got into sync. The Wizards now look like a playoff-caliber team with a 7-2 clip over their last nine games, including a five-game winning streak.
Their only losses in that stretch occurred against the LA Clippers during a five-game Western swing, and a 2-point loss against the Boston Celtics on Sunday.
In the past couple of weeks, the Wizards knocked off the LA Lakers in overtime and beat the Denver Nuggets twice.
International Relations in DC
The Wizards have several young international players, including Rui Hachimura, rookie Deni Avdija, and Mo Wagner, who are all getting plenty of experience playing with Beal and Westbrook.
Avdija, a small forward from Israel and the #9 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, started 16 games this season. He’s only averaging 5.9 ppg and 4.5 rebounds, but he’s getting valuable on-the-job training.
The Wiz drafted ex-Gonzaga star Hachimura, originally from Japan, with the #9 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He’s averaging 12.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Center Mo Wagner, a former standout from Michigan via Germany, cracked the Wiz’s rotation and is averaging 6.9 ppg and 3.1 rebounds.
On Deck: Grizzlies and Clippers
The Wizards have two home games in Washington before the All-Star Break begins this weekend. The Memphis Grizzlies (15-15) come to DC tonight, and the LA Clippers (24-12) fly into town on Thursday.
DraftKings also has a prop bet: will the Wizards make the playoffs? A playoff run pays out +240, while the Wiz are favorites at -315 to miss the postseason.
The Wizards are +1400 odds to win the NBA Southeast Division, where the Miami Heat (17-17) are favorites to win once again.
You can back the Wizards at +25000 odds to win the 2021 NBA Championship, according to DraftKings.