The Washington Wizards snapped a five-year playoff drought last season with young stars John Wall and Bradley Beal leading the way.
They’re looking all the more dangerous with veteran Paul Pierce on board.
The first-place Wizards go for a third consecutive win and fifth in six tries against the visiting Atlanta Hawks as these Southeast Division foes meet for the first time this season Tuesday night.
Article continues below ...
"This team did a great job adding some veteran experience, some depth. We’re trying to build off last year," said Pierce, who signed a two-year deal this summer. "The Eastern Conference, the way it is, we can be one of the top teams, if not the top team."
Pierce posted season highs with 25 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s 111-100 win at Milwaukee. Wall scored 19 to go with nine assists and five steals as Washington (9-3) stormed back from 15 down.
The Wizards came out sluggish after beating Cleveland 91-78 the night before.
"In the past, we would have folded and lost by 30. But we dug deep and played hard," Wall said. "You don’t win (Friday) night on the big stage and then come out here and get beat. Otherwise, what was the point of winning that game? This is a big statement for our team."
Pierce shot 8 of 16, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, and scored seven of the team’s final 14 points. He’s averaging 17.0 points on 54.5 percent shooting over the last three games.
"He’s the ‘Truth’ for a reason," Wall said. "It’s great to have a guy like that to take the pressure off you at times. He’s been in that situation multiple times, making big shots and big plays."
The Wizards had dropped 18 of 19 against Atlanta before winning four of the last five. Washington has taken three in a row in the series at home, where it’s held opponents to 42.2 percent shooting in opening 5-1.
Atlanta has gone 1-4 on the road while allowing 107.4 points per game.
"We just have to bring it. Simple as that," Hawks forward Paul Millsap said. "From the first quarter to the fourth quarter. We have to come out with a bunch of energy. We know we’re going to be on the road. It’s going to be us against the world."
Atlanta (6-5) bounced back from back-to-back defeats with Friday’s 99-89 victory over Detroit, its fifth win in seven games. Jeff Teague led the way with a season-high 28 points while Millsap added 15 and 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double.
The Hawks, who blew a 19-point lead before taking control down the stretch, open a four-game homestand against Atlantic Division-leading Toronto after this contest.
"We’re still a long ways away from playing 48 minutes the way we’d like to play, but I think there were a lot of good stretches," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "We’ll learn from where we weren’t good and get ready for a big week next week."
Wall averaged 21.3 points and 10.3 assists in four matchups against the Hawks last season.
Beal has averaged 16.7 points off the bench while shooting 51.2 percent in three games since returning from a broken wrist.
Wizards starting center Nene played six minutes against the Bucks before exiting with plantar fascia, leaving his status in doubt for Tuesday.