WASHINGTON — The Washington Wizards are inching closer to their first playoff spot since 2008 and can earn a postseason berth Sunday if the Golden State Warriors beat the New York Knicks.
After the Wizards’ sloppy 101-97 win over the free-falling Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night, they insisted they’re not looking ahead — at least not publicly.
“If the Knicks lose, I’ll be more excited. I’d know I’d be playing in the playoffs,” John Wall said.
Wall scored 25 points and Drew Gooden added 16 for Washington, which is sixth in the Eastern Conference.
Wall scored 13 points in the last 7:16 of the third quarter and the Wizards finally escaped the pesky Hawks, who have lost six straight and 20 of 26.
Jeff Teague scored 19 points and Paul Millsap 17 for Atlanta.
Washington had to overcome a slow start coming off its impressive 13-point win over Eastern Conference leader Indiana on Friday to beat the Hawks, who lead the Knicks by 1½ games for the final playoff berth in the East.
They also had to deal with the effects of a Saturday afternoon hockey game at the Verizon Center. Because of the Washington Capitals’ game with the Boston Bruins, the starting time of the Wizards’ game was pushed back an hour. The changeover left the floor slippery and may have caused a groin injury to Washington forward Trevor Ariza.
“Good thing nobody got seriously injured, but we got to work on that. Somebody could’ve really got hurt. We got to keep ourselves safe,” Ariza said. “I tried to play the game as fast as I can all the time, but after I fell and slipped, I slowed down for sure.”
He finished with 13 points. Bradley Beal had 14.
“That floor was awful tonight. I apologize for that,” coach Randy Wittman said.
Washington led 99-89 with 2:38 to play, but the Hawks scored eight straight including three free throws by Lou Williams and a three-point play by Teague with 39.8 to play. Teague’s three points came immediately after Wall missed two foul shots. With the Wizards leading 99-97, Marcin Gortat blocked Teague’s shot with 11.1 seconds left. Gooden was fouled by Teague and hit two free throws to secure the win.
“We call this fatigue. We call this fatigue and too relaxed. I’m glad we won that game. Otherwise, I’d probably shoot myself at home,” Gortat said.
He had 12 points and 11 rebounds. Wittman wasn’t pleased with how his team closed out the game.
“Disappointed in that, but there’s not a bad win in this league. We’ll take the win,” Wittman said.
Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer, whose team played well despite missing three of its five leading scorers, had been hoping for a comeback.
“It’s amazing how long an NBA game is and what can happen in the last two minutes,” Budenholzer said.
The game was interrupted countless times by the condensation, which seemed to bother Wizards players more than Hawks. It was reminiscent of a Jan. 11 game that featured two lengthy stoppages when a heavy rainstorm hit the area and delayed Washington’s game with Houston.
The Hawks started hot, hitting seven of their first eight shots and running out to a 21-11 advantage, but Washington got eight late points from Gooden, outscoring the Hawks 16-7 in the last 4:31 to lead 28-27 after one.
Thanks to nine points in the last five minutes by Pero Antic, Atlanta led 52-50 at halftime.
Wall’s third-quarter offensive display gave the Wizards a 75-71 lead after going into the fourth.
NOTES: Washington F/C Nene, who has missed 17 games with a left knee sprain is progressing, though Wittman isn’t guessing when he may return. “He’s going on the floor a little bit, on his own, just kind of getting on his legs a little bit,” Wittman said. “Where that takes us I don’t know. He’s going in a good direction.” … Atlanta was without G/F Kyle Korver (back spasms) and G DeMarre Carroll (stomach virus). … Wizards G Andre Miller was called for a flagrant foul on Hawks G Dennis Schroder in the fourth quarter, but Schroder missed both foul shots.
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