WASHINGTON -- The Wizards started the season on the ropes and in the Eastern Conference basement. Now, even when tired after a grueling stretch of games, they are the ones landing knockout blows while rising up the standings.
Point guard John Wall had 26 points and 12 assists, swingman Trevor Ariza scored 24 and Washington survived a chaotic second half for a 108-101 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night.
Small forward Martell Webster scored 19 points and power forward Nene had 13 points and 12 rebounds for the Wizards (8-9), who have won six of eight games since starting the season 2-7.
Washington never trailed during the final three quarters, led by 18 points in the second half, made 12 3-pointers and fended off multiple Atlanta rallies.
"We're showing growth. We're showing maturity," said Ariza, who sank 5 of 6 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc. "I feel we're ready to take the next step and become a playoff team."
Power forward Paul Millsap led the Hawks (9-9) with 23 points and 10 rebounds. His 3-pointer had Atlanta down 81-79 with 9:42 remaining, but the Hawks never could take the lead.
Fouled shooting a 3-pointer with 1:46 remaining, Ariza made all three free throws for a 100-92 lead. Washington finished 12 of 24 overall on 3-point attempts.
Atlanta beat the Dallas Mavericks on Friday after trailing by 17 points in the second half. The Hawks could not muster another winning comeback and have dropped four of five.
Center Al Horford had 16 points as all five starters on both teams scored in double figures.
"You almost have to play perfect basketball when you get behind like that," Horford said. "Sometimes it's not going to work. Yesterday we were lucky we caught some breaks and were able to pull the game out."
Hawks point guard Jeff Teague scored 15. Forward Cartier Martin, who spent parts of the last four seasons with the Wizards, had 12 points.
"It was a little bit of a strange game," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I think both of us on back-to-backs made that. We had opportunities where maybe we could have gone ahead but didn't take advantage of those opportunities and they would spread from us again. We need to find a way to not dig ourselves a hole."
The Wizards, who haven't reached the postseason since 2008, improved to 4-1 in second games of back-to-back scenarios this season. Washington lost on the road against the Indiana Pacers on Friday night, but overall won six of eight games in a 12-day stretch.
The schizophrenic contest Saturday featured significant swings. Washington entered the third quarter leading 54-44 and pushed the lead to 66-48 with 8:12 remaining on consecutive baskets by Nene.
Less than seven game minutes later, the margin was four points as Millsap capped a 20-6 burst with a floater and a 3-pointer. That trimmed Washington's lead to 72-68 with 1:11 left in the period, yet the Wizards entered the fourth quarter ahead 79-70 following guard Eric Maynor's floater before the crowd of 14,280.
"We didn't panic because we knew what kind of team we had," Wall said.
The comment referenced defeating Atlanta but could double for the season overall. Washington is currently fifth in the East, tied with Charlotte.
"We have a team that's capable of being in the playoffs," the point guard said.
The Hawks can certainly make such claims even during this current skid considering the conference's suspect records.
"I really don't want to look at it like that," Horford said. "I want to see how good we can be, but if you look at the conference, a lot of teams are kind of in the middle right now. We're trying to find ourselves as a team, trying to put it together. Hopefully we can get it going. I think we will."
Wizards coach Randy Wittman received a technical foul in the second quarter after a 7-0 Atlanta spurt cut Washington's lead to 38-37. From there the Wizards went on a 13-3 run and entered halftime leading 54-44 on Webster's third 3-pointer of the half.
Atlanta shot 35.9 percent from the field in the first half but made 14 of 16 free throws and 22 of 26 overall.
NOTES: F Nene started for the Wizards after missing Friday's loss at the Indiana Pacers with an Achilles injury. ... Hawks F Kyle Korver (rib contusion) missed his third straight game with bruised ribs. Continuing a trend of not playing on consecutive days following offseason knee surgery, G Lou Williams did not play. ... Hawks F Cartier Martin, who replaced Korver, played 118 games over four seasons with Washington before joining Atlanta this year. ... Entering Saturday, Wizards G John Wall and Hawks G Jeff Teague ranked second and sixth respectively in assists. The division foes will face off three more times this season. Atlanta won last season's series 3-1. ... Atlanta travels to face the San Antonio Spurs on Monday. ... The Wizards continue their four-game homestand against the Orlando Magic on Monday.