The NBA postseason is looming, but the Washington Wizards are sputtering to the finish line.
The Wizards lost Friday at home to the lowly Atlanta Hawks 103-97, dropping its fourth straight game and 10th of the past 16 since March 6.
More importantly, the Wizards (42-38) fell to the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference standings, a half-game behind the Milwaukee Bucks (42-37), though Washington owns the tiebreaker.
But judging by Friday’s performance, Washington will be backing into the playoffs.
Forward Markieff Morris was ejected in the first quarter for protesting a called foul, and things didn’t get much better from there. Washington, which ranks fourth in the NBA at 25 assists per game, managed just 18 against the Hawks.
The Wizards were also out-rebounded 50-45 by Atlanta (23-57), which notched just its seventh road win of the season and split the season series with Washington, 2-2.
“Nobody wanted to share the basketball tonight,” said Wizards head coach Scott Brooks. “We haven’t passed in the last couple of weeks. We’re a selfish basketball team right now.”
Brooks said his team has to shake bad defensive habits such as allowing back-door layups and drives to the basket.
He also exhorted his players to hit the offensive boards, as they allowed Atlanta front court players Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins to grab 14 and 10 rebounds, respectively.
Taurean Prince led six Hawks in double figures with 23 points, including six during a 16-4 Atlanta run in the final five and a half minutes. Prince also had five assists.
Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. didn’t have a specific answer for his team’s recent struggles, but said he is confident they will be ready for the playoffs.
“We’ve just got to look ourselves in the mirror [and ask,] ‘what can I do to make the team better?'” said Porter, who had 10 points and seven rebounds Friday. “We have to do a way better job of defending one-on-one, taking pride in defense. We’re going to come to a conclusion on what we need to do.”
The Wizards’ final two regular season contests include a home game Tuesday against the Boston Celtics, a potential first-round playoff foe.
Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall, who sat Friday for the second of a back-to-back set, is expected to play against Boston.
Washington finishes the regular season Wednesday on the road against the Orlando Magic.