While the Atlanta Hawks are guaranteed home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, success in the postseason will be hard to come by if they can’t win on the road.
Looking to avoid their longest road skid in more than two years, the Hawks on Saturday night will try to sweep the season series and win their ninth straight against the Washington Wizards, who are playing much better since snapping a franchise-worst losing streak.
Coupled with Boston’s 106-96 home loss to Washington (25-54) on Friday, Atlanta (50-29) moved one game ahead of the Atlantic Division champion Celtics for third in the Eastern Conference with a 107-101 win over Toronto. The Hawks also reached 50 wins for the first time since 1997-98.
“We can’t be happy and content,” said coach Mike Woodson. “We still have a lot of work to do. We still have three more regular-season games, and then we’ve got to start getting geared up for the playoffs.”
What the Hawks learned in last season’s run to the East semifinals is that winning on the road is critical for postseason success. Atlanta was 3-3 at home but dropped four of five on the road.
Coming off their season-high 11th straight home win, the Hawks open a two-game swing at Washington and Milwaukee and will try to snap a six-game road losing streak. The last time Atlanta dropped seven in a row on the road was Jan. 27-Feb. 20, 2008.
The Hawks will try to regain some confidence away from Philips Arena with its sixth consecutive victory in the nation’s capital. In its last visit to Washington on March 11, Atlanta won 105-99 behind Jamal Crawford’s(notes) 29 points including four 3-pointers.
It was the Hawks’ eighth consecutive victory over Washington.
Atlanta, though, faces a Wizards team that’s won four of six following a franchise-record 16-game skid.
“During that stretch we lost a lot of games when, I thought, we were playing pretty good,” coach Flip Saunders said following Friday’s victory. “I think we learned some things … and have grown from that.”
Former No. 4 overall pick Shaun Livingston(notes) is quickly growing into a leader for Washington. Signed for the rest of the season March 19 following two 10-day contracts, Livingston is averaging 16.5 points and 6.2 assists in the last six games. He went 6 for 6 from the foul line in the last 1:29 on Friday with Boston trimming the Wizards’ 28-point first-half lead to six in the final minute.
“I started getting a little nervous,” forward Andray Blatche(notes) said after scoring 31 points with 11 rebounds. “But Shaun calmed everybody down and took control of the game. That’s the kind of leadership we’ve got on this team, and that’s exactly what he did.”
Blatche had 30 points and 10 rebounds in last month’s loss to Atlanta.
After missing three games with a sprained right thumb, Hawks guard Joe Johnson(notes) returned Friday and had 18 points and seven assists. He is averaging 19.7 points and 5.7 rebounds versus the Wizards this season.
Washington’s last victory in this matchup was 102-98 in overtime in Atlanta on Jan. 11, 2008.