With one more win by the Wizards, or one more loss by the Atlanta Hawks, Washington will do something it hasn't done in nearly four decades time.
The Wizards will clinch the franchise's first division title since the 1978-79 season. At 38 years, not only is that the longest drought of all NBA teams, but it's the longest such streak of any team in U.S. professional sports. No one has waited longer in the NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB, and both the WNBA and MLS were not formed until the 1990s.
The L.A. Clippers previously held that distinction until they won the Pacific Division in the 2012-13 season after a 42-year wait. They repeated to win it the next year, as well. When the Warriors won the Pacific Division in 2014-15, that broke a 39-year drought.
The Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL were recently just behind the Wizards in their quest. They began as a franchise in the 1979-80 season and didn't win one until they took the Pacific Division in 2011-12 after waiting 32 years. The longest current drought in the NHL is the Edmonton Oilers, who last won in 1986-87, 30 years ago. They are actually just two points out of first this season in the Pacific Division with seven games to go.
The longest division championship drought in the NFL is the Cleveland Browns, who won 28 years ago in 1989. In MLB, the longest division drought is held by the Pirates at 25 years.
So, here are the Wizards who now just need to eliminate the Hawks to win the Southeast Division and break through a decades-long wait. At 45-28 on the season, the Wizards need just one win or one loss for Atlanta to clinch, given Washington holds the tiebreaker with a 3-1 head-to-head record this season. The Wizards play at the Lakers at 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, while the Hawks host the Suns at 7:30 p.m. in Atlanta.
The Hawks have lost seven straight, the Wizards have won three in a row and there are nine games left for both teams. It almost certainly will happen and happen soon.
The question is: when it does happen, how will it be celebrated? It will break the longest division-winning drought in U.S. sports, yet NBA division titles don't quite mean what they did just a few years ago.
When the NBA changed their playoff seeding procedure in September of 2015 they ensured that the top two teams in the conference by record could not meet in the second round. That was possible under the old format, when winning one's division meant an automatic top four seed.
But that change has since made winning an NBA division less consequential. A division championship does technically equal a tiebreaker for the eighth and final playoff spot, but only in rare instances where that is necessary. Aside from a banner in the rafters of an arena, division titles just don't carry the same weight that they used to.
All that puts what the Wizards are poised to accomplish in a peculiar category. If, or when, the Wizards win the Southeast Division, what will it truly mean?
It should mean a lot. Thirty eight years is a long, long time.
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