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Q&A: Kent Bazemore on Hawks, Contract, Top Scorers

Basketball Insiders

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Kent Bazemore of the Atlanta Hawks was recently a guest on the Basketball Insiders Podcast. Alex Kennedy and Michael Scotto interviewed Kent and the Q&A can be found below. To the listen to the podcast in its entirety, click the play button above.

Question: Kent, first off, thanks for joining us. It’s always good to talk with you. I just want to start by talking about this Atlanta Hawks team. Right now, you’re in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. When you look at the conference from top to bottom, there’s such a jumble that the number four and the 12 seed are only separated by three to four games at this point. What’s your take, so far, on the Eastern Conference as a whole and where you guys fit in right now?

Bazemore: “First of all, thanks for having me. The Eastern Conference is tough. It’s early on in the year and there are a lot of teams without an injury, a lot of teams have a new look and are still trying to figure it out. Positioning is still prime, if you can steal games here and there you still give yourself a good chance of being in the thick of things. We did our work early in the season, getting off to a 9-2 start, then we hit a little rough patch there. But we’re coming off winning three straight, [including] a big home win against San Antonio a few nights ago. Things are starting to pick back up for us. We’re a very, very, very talented group, there’s a high ceiling for us. That’s the beauty of the season, there’s so much that happens within a season, not only within the season but within the first few months. You’ve got to stay the course, keep your head down and keep working.”

Question: You mentioned the overtime win over San Antonio. You guys have had some quality wins lately, beating the Spurs, the Pistons, the Knicks, the Thunder, the Raptors, the Bucks. How much does that help your confidence and do you guys feel like you’re starting to gain some momentum?

Bazemore: “Yeah, we know we’re a good team. It’s just doing it consistently, doing it on a consistent basis. That’s what the great teams in the NBA do, they go in every night and they’re all about their business. We’ve had some setbacks and had some tough losses – we got swept by the Timberwolves, we got swept by the Lakers. It hasn’t been all of those good games we want, we’ve slipped up. That’s just facts, that’s everything thrown in your face. We can be a really, really good team or we can be just a middle-of-the-pack team, it’s totally up to us. Coach [Mike Budenholzer] has done a great job of helping us weather the storm. He’s been uber positive, he’s been super supportive of certain guys and whatever they’ve been going through on the court. Hindsight being 20/20, starting the way we did and to go through that little rough patch, it’s been great for us. We’ve seen the best and the worst, and now we’re starting to really figure it out again. It’s kind of rewarding, to go through that stuff and refocus and start winning some games.”

Question: To reach that ceiling of what you guys could ultimately be, who or what is the ‘x-factor’ for the Atlanta Hawks to make that happen and for you guys to click on all cylinders?

Bazemore: “Honestly, I don’t think it’s one person, it’s the collective group. Obviously, having Dwight Howard has been amazing for us. It’s giving us a chance every night. The fact that he can rebound and really change the game really impacts the game a certain way. I think Paul Millsap is starting to pick up steam. I think Dennis Schroder is starting to really find his groove. Kyle [Korver] is starting to make shots. Tim Hardaway Jr. has been playing well. We’ve got [talented] guys, Mike Muscala, Kris Humphries, I can go all the way down the roster, but we’ve got a ton of guys that can really bring it and that’s what makes our team unique. You never know who it’s going to be [that steps up]. You can’t really go into a game, game planning around one person. The ball’s starting to move, a few nights ago we had like 29 assists, and that’s really, really good. There’s only a few teams in the league that pass the ball that well and win games. You see the Warriors, they have so many games over 30 assists, they’re very successful that way and that’s the way we want to play. It’s not really one person you can pin it on because no one has had a ‘great’ year to date on our team – everyone’s been up and down. Whatever we’ve done, it’s been done collectively. It’s not really a person, it’s a team thing.”

Question: Any time you have new starters, there’s always an adjustment period. When Michael interviewed you earlier in the season, he talked about the chemistry and adjustment. Obviously, with Dennis stepping into the starting lineup and Dwight joining the team and getting acclimated, you guys had to learn how to play with each other. Now, 30 games into the season, how comfortable are you guys together and where is the chemistry level at?

Bazmore: “I think we’re getting comfortable, the chemistry is starting to get there. Earlier in the year, we turned the ball over too much and that was from having the right intentions but not quite knowing, not quite getting it, not quite having that chemistry and synergy. Now, you see Dennis and Dwight connect on lobs. You see Dennis finding Thabo Sefolosha on slashes. Tim Hardaway Jr. running the floor, him and Malcolm Delaney have a good connection on the second unit, and Kyle Korver as well. There are certain plays that you see that we’re making now that we weren’t three or four weeks ago. It’s all starting to come together for us and, defensively, we’re getting our confidence back on that end of the floor, really making it tough for opposing teams and making it hard for them. Our defense has always been our staple; we put so much pressure on ourselves, struggling to score offensively or taking bad shots or whatever. Now we’re ironing things out. The pie is starting to bake, and that good old smell of sweet potato pie is in the air. (Laughs)”

Question: When you talk about you guys having a little bit of pressure, how about you individual pressure? You’re now a $70 million man. With that type of money comes different responsibilities, different pressure, different perception around the league about you. Have you felt, at all, since putting pen to paper on that contract, any added pressure for yourself and a different perception of yourself around the league from other players to this point?

Bazmore: “I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself, unknowingly. Going into my fifth year, I’ve been around a little bit, I wanted to take the leap as a player. Regardless of what I got paid, I want to be great. Having a deep playoff run and playing in the playoffs the last three seasons, I feel like it’s time for me to take the leap. This year, these first 30 games, I’ve been pressing a ton and it’s all coming from a good place, but that’s the growth, for me as a player. I’m really taking my time and continuing to be who I am.

“I’ve said this when I went back and got my jersey retired at Old Dominion. I didn’t have the best career in Old Dominion history. I didn’t average 25 and wasn’t an All-American in college. I was a great teammate, I was a great student, I was just a great, well-rounded person. And that, I think, plays a lot into why I was paid so much. I’m a great teammate, I work hard, I play the game the right way. It’s just getting back to who I am and not trying to be something I’m not, and it’s coming. As a competitor, you want to prove the naysayers wrong and shut people up, but there’s a way of going about it and it’s not going out and trying to score every basket or get every assist. It’s just being who you are, staying true to who you are, especially when things get rough. [That’s when] your character really starts to show and if you can stay close to your roots and get through the storm, you really start to shine.”

Question: Now you mentioned ODU and getting your jersey retired. If I were to tell that Kent Bazemore, who was a senior back at the time, a guy that, you and I will laugh about this, but that was a guy who couldn’t shoot the rust off of a gym and now you can shoot a little bit better and you really found a niche. Being a $70 million player, would you have foreseen that for yourself at that time?

Bazmore: “No. I honestly didn’t know what the future held. I always knew I wanted to play basketball, and everyone wants to go to the NBA. The percentages are minimal, it’s such a finite, small window for guys that really get the opportunity. I think it’s been 4,100 guys that have ever worn NBA jerseys or something like that. It’s crazy. It’s small and I was never on any draft boards. I had a great, great profile pic on MaxPreps in high school (laughs), but I was never a guy that was jumping off people’s radar. I always knew it was a long shot, but I can honestly say that my agent, the people around me, really helped me gain a belief, and my head coach at the time, Blaine Taylor, from Old Dominion, always preached about my length and athleticism and always said I had NBA athleticism. My agent, Austin Walton, is a beast at getting me opportunities. They helped me get my foot in the door and I just kept climbing. The first Summer League I played in, I got the record for blocks in a game or something like that. It’s, like I said, just being who I am, being the long length kid that couldn’t shoot the rust off the gym, but just continuing to work. I can honestly say, even with all the faith and believing in myself 110 percent, this is far and beyond anything I could ever have imagined, for sure.”

Question: Kent, one thing I’ve noticed when talking to guys who are fringe NBA players, whether it’s at Summer League or around the draft when guys go undrafted, a lot of guys point to you and say, ‘Look what Kent Bazemore did, he was undrafted, now he’s got a big contract. I can do the same thing.’ What does it mean to you to be an inspiration to so many of those guys? I think before, those guys would point to Wes Matthews or Jeremy Lin or guys like that, but now you’re the guy everyone points to and says, ‘If he can do it, I can follow in his footsteps.’ How cool is it to be an inspiration for so many players?

Bazmore: “It means a lot. One of my greatest goals I could achieve in life, one of the things I want to do in life, is to inspire. Being undrafted, being a fringe guy, it’s a different motivation. And even before that, if you come from a mid-major school, you probably weren’t that highly touted. We all have something to climb to, we all have that fire that’s burning and, not to take anything away from the McDonald’s All-Americans or the Jordan Brand All-Americans, not to take anything away from those guys because they’re special athletes too. But, when you aren’t [one of those guys], when you’re always looking at them, always looking up at them, looking at where they are on the boards or how people look at them, you get this fire inside of you. Once you step foot in the NBA, all that stuff goes out the window. Everything you’ve gotten, [you battled for]. Is he going to dive for this loose ball because he’s a first-rounder and he got guaranteed money for the next three or four years? For me, my rookie year, I had a $90,000 guaranteed contract to the Ukraine, which I knew nothing about, so there’s this discrepancy and want and desire and I think those guys, if they can really tap into that, they can blow the doors off anything. You really don’t have any expectations as a fringe guy, you may be the 15th man. They may bring you in and see what you can do, but if you go in and really, really work and try to bug your coaches and learn and work and train, just do all the right things, be a great teammate, then the sky’s the limit. I was blessed to have some of the best veterans ever my rookie year: Richard Jefferson, Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, David Lee, Steph Curry and all of those guys. They really got behind me and helped me navigate and I listened, I was coachable. I love the fact that I can inspire and I really hope that I’m opening doors for a lot of people.”

Question: You mentioned that there were no expectations, initially. What’s it like going from being a guy that people don’t really expect a lot from and you can sneak up on people, to now being someone that teams game-plan for because of your production? How different is that, now that everyone knows what you can do?

Bazemore: “It’s tough, it’s hard. That’s why you applaud guys like the Kobes, Durants, Stephs, LeBrons. You applaud those guys because every night, for 82 games, Kobe Bryant for 20 seasons, they knew he was coming and they designed defenses for him, but he still overcame it. It’s tough. It’s gratifying that you go from being the 15th man to being on someone’s scouting report, but, at the same time, teams guard you different. It’s a challenge. You figure it out slowly, you bring your game every night and you see if you can find that crease. You’re patient, you’re just like that panther that’s waiting to pounce on your opportunity. It teaches you a lot of patience because, once you get this deep into the season, you may make changes at the All-Star break to the playbook but, right now you’re pretty much running the same things and teams have such advanced scouting, they know every play that comes up. They probably know what you’re going to run after a timeout and your rotation, so you really have to play a game within a game and keep teams honest and really evolve your mind. Basketball is becoming a game of chess, for me, it’s setting up a move two moves from now. That’s the long story, but it’s fun. It’s real fun.”

Question: Kent, one of the ways you had to make a niche for yourself in a way to get time off the bench from when you first started your career was with defense. Going back to college, you were a two-time CAA Defensive Player of the Year, you won a Lefty Driesell Award. Now that you’ve been in the league for awhile, from your perspective, who have been some of the toughest guys that you’ve had to guard?

Bazemore: “Manu Ginobili is tough. There’s constant movement, he never stops moving, and he’s left-handed. Night in and night out, I guard a ton of right-handed people. There’s two times a year where you’ve got a guy who rips the opposite direction and you think it would be easier, for me, guarding lefties, but he’s just so cerebral on the court and he passes it so well. He can shoot it, his pump fake [is great] and he has his game down pat and he plays it well to a T. Another guy would be DeMar DeRozan, who has excelled this year. He had a hot start and he’s been winning games for Toronto. James Harden, Russell Westbrook, those offensive juggernauts, the guys who are in the top 10 to 15 in scoring. They’re special. They’ve got guys that want to get them open, they’ve got coaches that run plays for them, and you’ve got to guard him and help your teammates, so it’s a tough task. Those are the guys that come to mind right now. Obviously, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, the list goes on. But it’s fun, it’s a challenge. I go to sleep every night with a smile on my face knowing I get to guard some of the best players in the world. It’s gratifying.”

Question: Are you ever a trash talker?

Bazemore:  “Not really. Talk’s cheap, especially in this game. These guys are so savvy at using your aggression against you, so you’ve got to talk to yourself. These guys get to the free throw line at such a crazy clip, you out there trash talking, he’s talking to you, he pump fakes, you jump, gets you in the air, he’s shooting free throws and you’ve got two fouls in the first five minutes and you sit on the bench. I learned that the hard way, so, not really. I’m just more about empowering my teammates and channeling the trash talking into positivity for my team.”

Question: So, Kent, now that you’ve done the ‘Bazemoring’ off the bench, you’ve done the ‘Bazegaze,’ what’s next after that?

Bazemore: “(Laughs) I don’t know. All of this stuff, it’s just natural, it just happens. ‘Bazemoring’ was something, actually, Charles Jenkins had a hand in it. We were sitting at the end of the bench in Detroit my rookie year and Steph and Klay were just making it rain from three and we had a front row seat to see it and I just started doing all of this crazy stuff. It’s nothing that I planned to do, it just happens. The ‘Bazegaze’ was originated from my college best friend. We’d be talking and if he thought you were lying, he’d give you that look like, ‘Come on bro.’ So, that’s where that came from. So, who knows what’s next, the people love it in Atlanta, so I’ll just keep trying to think of something else.”

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NBA Daily: The Young, Western Conference Bubble

The race for the West’s final playoff spot may seem crowded, but the last two months make it clear that two teams are already ahead of the pack.

Douglas Farmer

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We all jump to conclusions too quickly, this space and this scribe most certainly included. Three months ago, five weeks into the NBA season, the Western Conference playoff bubble looked like it would be a race between the Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves. That has assuredly not become the reality.

While the Kings and Suns can claim to still be in the playoff race, they would have to not only make up five-game deficits, but they would also each have to jump over four other teams to reach the postseason. The Timberwolves would delight at such challenges as they initiate a not-so-subtle tank with franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns sidelined for at least a few weeks with a fractured wrist.

Instead, the race to be swept by the Los Angeles Lakers has come down to a pair of up-and-comers, a perpetual deep threat and the NBA’s most consistent organization. Of all of them, it is the youngsters who are both currently playing the best and have the most control of their playoff hopes relative to their competition.

Between the current No. 8-seeded Memphis Grizzlies, the Portland Trail Blazers (3 games back), New Orleans Pelicans (3.5) and San Antonio Spurs (4), the next six weeks will feature eight key games. Five of those will include either the Grizzlies or the Pelicans or, in two instances, both.

That pair of matchups is still a month out, but they warrant circling already, nonetheless. Memphis and New Orleans have been playing at a high level for two-plus months now, and by the time they play two games within four nights in late March — when the basketball world is largely distracted by the NCAA Tournament — the two inexperienced teams may have completely separated from Portland and San Antonio.

After starting 1-5, 5-13 and then 10-19, the Grizzlies have gone 18-9 since Dec. 21. The Pelicans have matched that record exactly, down to the date, since starting even worse than Memphis did, bottoming out at 7-23 before finding an uptick long before Zion Williamson found the court. Winning two-thirds of your games for two months is a stretch with a sample size large enough to make it clear: Neither Memphis nor New Orleans should be dismissed in this playoff chase.

Their early-season profiles were examples of young teams sliding right back into the lottery — and there was absolutely no indication a surge was coming.

Grizzlies Pelicans
Offensive Rating 106.4 – No. 23 106.8 – No. 21
Defensive Rating 111.7 – No. 23 113.5 – No. 27

Through Dec. 20; via nba.com.

Then, for whatever reason, things changed. They changed in every way and in ways so drastically that one cannot help but wonder what could come next for the teams led by the top-two picks from last summer’s draft.

Grizzlies Pelicans
Offensive Rating 111.9 – No. 15 115.1 – No. 4
Defensive Rating 109.3 – No. 11 110.3 – No. 13

Since Dec. 21, through Feb. 23; via nba.com.

In a further coincidence of records and timing, the Blazers and Spurs have both gone 13-16 since Dec. 21.

If all four teams in the thick of things out west continue at these two-month winning rates for another month, then Portland and San Antonio will have drifted out of the playoff conversation before Williamson and Ja Morant meet for a second time. Of course, those rates would keep New Orleans a few games back of Memphis; the latter has 14 games, compared to 12, before March 21, so the gap in the standings would actually expand to an even four games.

If the Pelicans can just pick up a game or two before then, though, they have already beaten the Grizzlies twice this season. Doing so twice more that week would just about send New Orleans into the playoffs – at which point, perhaps Williamson could steal a game from LeBron James to put a finishing coda on his rookie season.

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NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southwest Division

David Yapkowitz finishes Basketball Insiders’ Stretch Run series with an overview of the Southwest Division.

David Yapkowitz

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We’ve hit that point in the NBA season approaching the final stretch of games before the playoffs roll around in April. The trade deadline has come and gone, the buyout market is wearing thin and most teams have loaded up and made their final roster moves in anticipation of the postseason.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking a look at each team — division by division– at what they need to do to get ready for the playoffs, or lack thereof. Looking at the Southwest Division, this was a division that used to be one of the toughest in the league.

It still is for the most part. The Texas triangle of the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs was no joke and hell for opposing teams on a road trip. Those are still a couple of formidable teams, but with the exception of the Rockets, it’s not quite near the level of yesteryear.

The Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans are a pair of young, up-and-coming teams that will give you 100 percent every night. While Memphis sits firmly in the eighth spot in the Western Conference, the Pelicans are on the outside looking in. Here’s a look at how each team might fare in the stretch run.

The Houston Rockets have been the best team in the Southwest all season long, and all that remains for them is playoff positioning. They currently sit in fourth place in the West, giving them home-court advantage in the first round, but they could just as easily slip a bit with the Utah Jazz essentially tied with them record-wise in the standings and the Oklahoma City Thunder a mere two games back.

The Dallas Mavericks have taken a huge leap this season behind Luka Doncic, who is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the league. They currently sit in seventh place in the West and a return to the postseason is in the cards for the Mavericks.

The rest of the teams in the Southwest is where things get a little interesting. The Grizzlies have been one of the surprises of the season, as they’ve defied expectations and are firmly entrenched in the playoff race out West. They have a three-game lead on the Portland Trail Blazers and a four-game lead on the San Antonio Spurs.

Out of the Grizzlies’ final 26 games, 15 of them come against teams over .500, more than either the Blazers or the Spurs. 14 of those final 26 are also on the road, again, more than the Blazers or the Spurs. They also play both the Spurs and Blazers one more time this season. If the Grizzlies end up making the playoffs, it will be very well earned.

The Spurs are knocking on the door, and they have one more game against the Grizzlies which could prove to be very meaningful. This is a team that has been one of the standard-bearers in the league for success over the past decade. Their streak of playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy.

They’ve won two of their last three games, however, and out of their final 26 games, 15 of those are at home, where they are 14-12. Based on how the Grizzlies are playing though, a close to .500 record at home probably isn’t going to cut it. They’re going to need to pick it up a bit over the next month if they want to keep their playoff streak intact. A lot can happen between now and then, and the Grizzlies do have a tough remaining schedule, but it looks as if San Antonio will miss the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.

The final team in the Southwest is the Pelicans, boosted by the return of prized rookie and No.1 draft pick Zion Williamson. Prior to the start of the season, the Pelicans were looked at as a team that could possibly contend for the eighth seed in the West. Then Williamson got hurt and things changed.

But the team managed to stay afloat in his absence, and as it stands, they’re only three-and-a-half games back of the Grizzlies with 26 games left to play. Out of the bottom three teams in the division, it’s the Pelicans who have the easiest schedule.

Out of those 25 games, only seven of them come against teams over .500. They are, however, just about split with home and away games. New Orleans is 8-2 over their past 10 games, better than the Grizzlies and Spurs. If Memphis falters down the stretch due to its tough schedule, and the Pelicans start gaining a little bit of steam, things could get interesting in the final few weeks.

In all likelihood, the Pelicans probably won’t make the playoffs as not only do they have to catch up to the Grizzlies, but the Spurs and Blazers as well. But it certainly will be fun to watch them try.

There are some big storylines in the Southwest Division worth following as we begin the final run to the postseason. Can the young Grizzlies defy expectations and make a surprise return to the playoffs? Will the Spurs get their playoff streak snapped and finally look to hit the reset button after nearly two decades of excellence? Can the Pelicans, buoyed by Williamson’s return, make a strong final push?

Tune in to what should be fun final stretch in the Southwest.

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NBA

NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southeast Division

With the All-Star Break behind us, the final stretch of NBA games has commenced. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few teams in the Southeast Division that have a chance at making the dance.

Quinn Davis

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Well, that was fast.

With the NBA All-Star break in the rearview, there are now fewer than 30 games to play for all 30 NBA teams. In other words, time is running out for certain teams to improve their seeding in the conference.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we will be looking at a certain subset of teams that are right on the border of making or missing the playoffs. In this edition, the focus will be on the Southeast Division.

The Southeast features three teams — the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards — operating in the lower-middle-class of the NBA. These three will be slugging it out over the next month-and-a-half for the right to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

The two remaining teams are the Miami HEAT and Atlanta Hawks. As this is being written, the former is comfortably in the playoffs at 35-20, while the latter is comfortably gathering more ping pong balls at 16-41.

In this space, the focus will be on the three bubble teams. The Magic are currently frontrunners for the eighth seed, but the Wizards and Hornets are within striking distance if things were to go awry.

Led by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have ground their way to the eighth seed behind an eighth-ranked defense. Lanky wing Aaron Gordon is the standout, helping the Magic execute their scheme of walling off the paint. The Magic only allow 31.3 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, putting them in 89th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.

Following a post-break loss to Dallas Mavericks, the Magic sit at 24-32 and three games up on the ninth-seeded Wizards. While a three-game margin doesn’t sound like much, that is a sizable cushion with only 26 games to play. Basketball-Reference gives the Magic a 97.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.

The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule out of Eastern Conference teams. They have very winnable games coming against the Bulls, Hornets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Pistons. They also have multiple games coming against the Brooklyn Nets, the team they trail by only 1.5 games for the seventh seed.

The Magic are prone, however, to dropping games against the league’s bottom-feeders. It can be difficult to string together wins with an offense this sluggish. The Markelle Fultz experiment has added some spark in that department, but his lack of an outside shot still leaves the floor cramped.

After a quick analysis of the schedule, the most likely scenario appears to be a 12-14 record over the last 26 games, putting the Magic at 36-46 come season’s end. A record like that should not be allowed anywhere near playoff basketball, but it would probably be enough to meet the Bucks in round one.

If the Magic go 12-14, that would leave the Wizards, fresh off a loss to J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing to go 17-11 over their last 28 games. They will need to finish one game ahead as the Magic hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Wizards finishing that strong becomes even more farfetched when you consider their remaining schedule. They have the second-toughest slate from here on out, per Basketball-Reference.

The Wizards do have a trump card in Bradley Beal, who is the best player among the bubble teams in the East. He has now scored 25 points or more in 13 straight games and has been the driving force behind the Wizards staying in the race.

He has also picked up his defense a bit following his All-Star snub in an effort to silence his critics. The increased focus on that end is nice, but it would’ve been a little nicer if it had been a part of his game earlier in this season when the Wizards were by far the worst defense in the league.

Even if Beal goes bonkers, it is hard to see a path for this Wizards team to sneak in outside of a monumental collapse in Orlando. Looking at their schedule, it would take some big upsets to even get to 10 wins over their last 28. Their most likely record to finish the season is 8-20 if all games go to the likely favorites.

The Wizards’ offense has been impressive all season, but injuries and a porous defense have been too much to overcome.

The Hornets, meanwhile, trail the Wizards by 1.5 games and the Magic by 4.5 games. They have won their last three in a row to put themselves back in this race, but they still have an uphill climb.

The Hornets also may have raised the proverbial white flag by waiving two veterans in Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The goal coming into this season was never to make the playoffs, so they are likely more interested in developing young talent over these last 27 games.

If the Magic do play up to their usual levels and go 12-14, it would require the Hornets to go 18-9 to finish the season against the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the East.

Devonte’ Graham and his three-point shooting have been a bright spot for the Hornets, but it would take some otherworldly performances from him and Terry Rozier down the stretch to put together a record like that. Basketball-Reference gives this a 0.02 percent chance of happening (cue the Jim Carrey GIF).

Barring a miracle, the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in place. The only questions remaining are how seeds 2-6 will play out, and whether the Magic can catch the Nets for the seventh spot.

The Wizards will fight to the end, but it is unlikely they make up any ground given the level of opponents they will see over the next six weeks. The Hornets, meanwhile, are more likely to fight for lottery odds.

At least the playoffs should be exciting.

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