With the regular season now in its backstretch, the fading Washington Wizards sought to make up ground in the Eastern Conference standings Monday against the lowly Atlanta Hawks.
It didn’t happen.
Washington lost to the Hawks 137-129 at Capital One Arena, the Wizards’ second straight home defeat and a potentially costly one with less than 30 games left in the season.
The Wizards (22-31) find themselves in a nebulous place, just three games out from the final postseason slot in the East, but only four games ahead of the lottery-bound Hawks (18-35).
Atlanta, which ranks in the bottom of half of the NBA in scoring and even lower in 3-point shooting percentage, shot a blistering 20-for-41, or 49 percent, from 3-point range Monday. In comparison, the Wizards shot 12-for-38, or 32 percent, from deep.
Nine Hawks players scored in double figures, led by Taurean Prince, who scored 12 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, including 4-for-4 from the 3-point line. Former University of Maryland standout Kevin Huerter chipped in with 19 points, including 5 for 7 from beyond the arc.
“It’s just got to be something we can correct and we will correct,” Wizards forward Jeff Green, who scored 26 points off the bench, said of the team’s perimeter defense. “We have to use these [games] to our advantage to try to put ourselves into position to get into the playoffs.”
Washington is currently tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference with the Orlando Magic, three games behind the Miami Heat for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Wizards have a decent home-court record at 16-11 this season, but have won just six games on the road. Washington travels Wednesday to face the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks (39-13), winners of four straight including a 131-115 road win Saturday over the Wizards.
Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said playing consistently has been the team’s primary focus all season.
“We’ve been an inconsistent defensive team,” he said. “If you don’t want your man to score on you, don’t let him shoot. That’s a simple way to guard guys.”
One bright spot Monday night was Jordan McRae, who scored 20 points off the bench. In the past four games, the two-player with the Wizards’ G League team Capital City Go-Go has averaged 14 points in about 18 minutes of playing time per game.
“I’m just going out there, just playing hard,” McRae said after Monday’s game. “If I see an opening, I’ll take it.”
Black History Month
The NBA, along with the National Basketball Players Association and Nike, will showcase a special Black History Month warmup T-shirt all teams wear before the games.
Like last year, several NBA players chose 14 words to sport on the front of the shirt: activate, believe, dream, empower, engage, equality, history, inspire, justice, lead, listen, love, perseverance and unify.
“It’s a great honor to be able to be Black,” said Wizards backup point guard Chasson Randle. “When you look back at the history at what Black people have done for this country [and] what Black people have done in terms of inventing things we wouldn’t be able to function without. [Black History] means excellence.”