Although they’re drawing closer to their first playoff berth in eight years, the Washington Wizards aren’t satisfied with just getting to the postseason.
The Wizards continue their battle for fourth place in the Eastern Conference when they face the NBA’s worst team, the Atlanta Hawks, losers of nine straight.
Washington holds a one-game lead over Chicago in the race for fourth, the final spot that carries home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. The Wizards play eight of their next 11 at home, where they are 24-9 this season.
“Teams are breathing down our necks, but we’re not worried about them right now,” Washington’s Gilbert Arenas said. “We’ve been holding this position down the whole season, why give it up now? We’ve got to hold onto the four spot.”
After opening their five-game trip with two losses in three games, the Wizards bounced back with victories at Seattle and Portland for their first winning road trip against Western Conference teams since March 2000.
“I’m proud of my team,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We took care of business on this road trip. We’ve come through with flying colors.”
Arenas and Larry Hughes combined for 53 points on 20-of-36 shooting to lead Washington to a 114-106 victory over Portland on Monday.
Hughes is the league’s sixth-leading scorer at 25.5 points per game, while Arenas adds 22.0 points. They are the NBA’s highest-scoring backcourt at 47.5 points per contest.
“No one’s matching up with us. We’re first and everyone is fighting to be second and third,” Arenas said.
Hughes and Arenas have had even more responsibility lately in picking up the slack for the short-handed Wizards, who are without third-leading scorer and leading rebounder Antawn Jamison, as well as starting center Brendan Haywood.
Jamison has missed eight straight games with tendinitis in his right knee, and Haywood has missed the past two with a fractured left thumb.
Washington did get one of its injured players back Monday, as guard Juan Dixon returned after missing eight of the last nine games with a sprained right ankle. He scored 13 points in 21 minutes off the bench, ending a string of three consecutive scoreless games.
This season can’t end soon enough for the Hawks, who are almost certain to finish with the league’s worst record and the worst record in franchise history.
Atlanta, playing without injured leading scorer Al Harrington, lost for the 22nd time in 23 games with Monday’s 109-102 defeat at Orlando.
“You can’t play a team like we did and not expect to struggle,” Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said. “Our defensive output was just horrendous in terms of defending the basketball.”
A victory Wednesday would give the Wizards four wins against the Hawks in a season for the first time since 1985-86.