Washington (35-28) is just 4-7 in its last 11 games, but the Wizards hope back-to-back games against teams with two of the three longest active losing streaks in the NBA can help them recapture the chemistry that has kept them atop the Southeast Division for most of the season.
“We can’t hope that someone plays poorly and loses. We’ve got to work hard to make us play better,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “We want our veterans to play like veterans. We need to execute. … That’s been the message: If we play hard, we have enough to win the division and we have enough to be good come playoff time.”
The Wizards beat Indiana 112-96 on Wednesday, handing the Pacers their 11th straight loss. Gilbert Arenas led Washington with 35 points, including 20 in the third quarter, as the Wizards pulled away. Arenas is shooting 47.6 percent from the field, 48.8 percent from 3-point range and 90.9 percent from the free-throw line in his last six games.
“We are just trying to play the basketball game, just trying to get back our rhythm that we had earlier in the year,” Arenas said. “Right now, we are a dangerous team.
“We lost a lot of games earlier that we felt we should have had. But once we get to the playoffs, I think we’ll be a tough team to beat in a seven-game series.”
Finding that rhythm might be more of a challenge than the Wizards had hoped because they will be without Caron Butler for 7 to 10 days. Butler, averaging career highs in points (19.1), rebounds (7.5), assists (3.7) and steals (2.1), won’t travel with the team on its upcoming five-game road trip because of a left knee injury.
“We have to have some stability with our rotation,” Jordan said. “That is what we are relying on.”
The Hornets (29-36) snapped a season-high six-game losing streak with a 92-90 victory at New York on Friday night. Despite a stress reaction in his left foot, reigning rookie of the year Chris Paul logged 40 minutes and had 20 points and eight assists for New Orleans, which won for the first time this month and remained just 1 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“It’s a feeling of relief, also a feeling of we’re still in the thick of things,” reserve forward Rasual Butler said.
It will be interesting to see how Paul, who averages team highs of 17.2 points and 8.8 assists, responds to the rigors of playing games on consecutive nights. The star point guard, who missed 17 games earlier this season with an ankle injury, has not played back-to-back games on Feb. 27-28, and had 24 points and 13 assists in the second contest.
Friday’s win also ended a five-game road losing streak for the Hornets, who are just 10-23 away from home and haven’t won consecutive games there since Nov. 15-18.
Desmond Mason led six Hornets in double figures in New Orleans’ 104-97 win over Washington in these teams’ first meeting this season. Arenas led the Wizards with 23 points, but went just 5-of-19 from the field.
The Hornets have not swept the season series between the teams since the 2003-04 season.