The Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards have already ended their postseason droughts but are still battling each other for seeding.
Charlotte will visit Washington on Wednesday night in a matchup with big implications in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The Bobcats (39-38) clinched their second-ever postseason berth and first since 2010 on Saturday with a 96-94 overtime victory at Cleveland. The Wizards (40-37) were guaranteed their first appearance since 2008 after last Wednesday’s home win over Boston.
Washington can double its one-game edge over Charlotte for sixth place with a win Wednesday, while the Bobcats would forge a tie with a victory and claim the tiebreaker for winning the season series 3-1. It would end up even if the Wizards win, but they’d get the tiebreaker for having already clinched a better Southeast Division record. Washington is 8-5 against division foes while Charlotte is 4-10.
A sixth-place finish figures to be much more favorable with a likely first-round matchup against Toronto or Chicago, while the seventh-place finisher will face Indiana or Miami. Charlotte is a combined 1-6 against the Pacers and Heat and 0-3 versus the Bulls, though it swept all three matchups with the Raptors. Washington is a combined 3-4 against Chicago and Toronto but won in both cities, and it is 2-4 versus Miami and Indiana with every loss coming on the road.
Bobcats coach Steve Clifford, though, cautioned against placing too much focus on the standings.
"To do something of significance, you have to be at the top of your game," said Clifford, who added that he has no plans to rest his starters down the stretch. "You can’t spend any time worrying about seventh seed (or) sixth seed. It doesn’t matter. It’s about improving."
Still, it is hard to dismiss the potential importance of first-round matchups. Charlotte was swept out of the first round in its only previous playoff appearance in 2010 by second-seeded Orlando. Sixth-seeded Milwaukee pushed third-seeded Atlanta – a team with six fewer wins than the Magic – to seven games that year.
The Bobcats will be looking for a fifth straight win Wednesday for the first time since taking six in a row March 5-14, 2010.
"We don’t want to get to the playoffs and get swept," said Al Jefferson, averaging 24.9 points over his last 19 contests with 12 double-doubles. "We want to make some noise in the playoffs."
Washington is coming off its worst home loss of the season, 96-78 to Chicago on Saturday. The Wizards were held to 26 first-half points, their fewest since scoring that many in a loss to San Antonio on Feb. 2, 2013.
One of the league’s top 3-point shooting teams on the season at 38.5 percent, Washington was 3 of 16 from deep. Top marksman Trevor Ariza was 1 for 9 from the field and 0 for 3 from beyond the arc while playing through an illness.
Prior to that defeat, the Wizards had won four of five with the lone loss coming in Charlotte – 100-94 on March 31. John Wall was limited to 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting, and Washington was outrebounded 48-37.
Nene’s return could help the Wizards in that department. He’s averaging 14.2 points and 5.8 rebounds but has been sidelined since spraining his knee Feb. 23. Nene was back at practice this week and is expected to play limited minutes Wednesday.
Clifford said he expects Josh McRoberts to return against Washington after sitting out three contests with a sprained left ankle.
Jefferson averaged 22.5 points in Charlotte’s two wins over the Wizards this season and was held to six in its only loss.