Given a chance to take a big step in the Eastern Conference playoff race in their last outing, the Washington Wizards couldn’t deliver. Now they’ll try to hold off a conference rival with its own chance at making a move in the race.
The Wizards look to hold on to the fifth spot in the East on Saturday when they host the Philadelphia 76ers, who are just one game behind them.
Washington (41-38) shot a season-low 27.1 percent in its 102-74 loss at Detroit on Friday night. The defeat kept the Wizards two games behind Cleveland in the race for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Cavaliers had already lost Friday when the Wizards got blown out.
Despite the missed opportunity, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said he just wanted his team to put together a better performance.
“I don’t care who else lost tonight—I care that we weren’t ready to play on a night like this against a championship-level team,” said Jordan, whose club had won its previous three games, including a 109-95 win on Wednesday over league-best Boston. “They challenged us at every position, and we didn’t respond.”
The 76ers (40-39) missed a chance of their own on Friday, putting up their lowest point total since Dec. 30 in their 85-76 loss to Indiana. That loss kept Philadelphia one game behind Washington and allowed Toronto to pull into a sixth-place tie.
“Just one of those games we couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean,” Sixers guard Willie Green said. “We missed open shots, we missed layups, we missed free throws. It led to us being out of rhythm on the other end.”
Getting back on track could be a challenge with Philadelphia forward Andre Iguodala nursing a bruised lower left leg. Iguodala, the Sixers’ leading scorer with 19.9 points per game, limped off the court midway through the first quarter Friday. He returned midway through the second quarter, but was clearly less than 100 percent.
“Right now I have to play through it,” he said after finishing with nine points, 10 assists and four steals. “You just have to go out there and gut it out. It prevented me from running out on breaks like I usually do, but I think I was still effective out there.”
The Sixers have won their last two meetings with the Wizards to take a 2-1 lead in the season series, and a win in this game would give them the tiebreaker in the event the clubs finish the regular season tied.
Citing the tiebreaker scenario, Wizards center Brendan Haywood said, “Now the Philly game is like a playoff game.”
Playing such a crucial game at Verizon Center could give the Wizards an advantage—they’ve won six of their last seven home games against the Sixers.
Washington forward Antawn Jamison is averaging 17.0 points and 10.7 rebounds in three games against the Sixers, but he’s been held to 33.3 percent shooting in those contests. Fellow All-Star Caron Butler, averaging a career-high 20.3 points, has been held to 11.3 per game against Philadelphia.
Iguodala, meanwhile, is averaging just 12.7 points and shooting 31.9 percent against the Wizards.