With their first playoff appearance in six years all but assured, the Washington Wizards may have gotten complacent during a rough stretch – then they knocked off the Eastern Conference’s top team.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks could jeopardize their chances at a seventh straight postseason berth if their slide continues.
The Wizards (37-35) are 1 1/2 games behind Brooklyn for fifth place, but with 7 1/2 games between them and ninth-place New York, they look set to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Still, they dropped four of five from March 18-26, including losses to non-contending Denver and Sacramento squads. But after letting opponents shoot 47.3 percent during that five-game stretch, they held Indiana to 35.4 percent shooting in a 91-78 home victory Friday.
John Wall scored 20 while Marcin Gortat contributed 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Pacers had been responsible for two of Washington’s three 20-plus point defeats this season.
"Our intensity level for 48 minutes had waned," coach Randy Wittman said of his team’s previous slump. "And we’d lost that edge a little bit, in terms of we waited until we got down before we really played with effort and intensity."
Even though the Wizards appeared to turn themselves around Friday, they’d surely like to see Bradley Beal snap out of a brief funk. He had seven points on 2-of-13 shooting against Indiana after going 3 for 11 with eight points in Wednesday’s loss to Phoenix.
Washington needs a win Saturday for its first season series victory over the Hawks since 2006-07. The Wizards had dropped 18 of 19 in the series before winning three of the last four, including two of three this season. They shot a combined 25 of 48 from 3-point range in those two victories, claiming a 114-97 win in Atlanta on Feb. 19 in the most recent matchup.
The Hawks (31-40) sit in eighth place with a two-game edge over New York, but have lost five straight for their third five-plus game losing streak since the beginning of February.
Atlanta, which is tied with Phoenix and Portland for the league lead with 9.5 made 3-pointers per game, is averaging 90.8 points and 6.4 made 3s during the slide. Kyle Korver – who averages 2.7 per game and shoots an NBA-best 48.6 percent from 3-point range – has missed all five games due to back spasms and his status for Saturday is unknown.
Jeff Teague tallied 22 points Thursday after going scoreless a night earlier in Minnesota, but the Hawks were 4 of 22 from beyond the arc in a 100-85 home loss to Portland.
"The whole group, in trying times and trying circumstances, has given a lot. Jeff Teague’s energy throughout the game allowed us to be close. We’re finding ourselves," coach Mike Budenholzer said. "We need to be disciplined and focused. In those stretches where we’re not, it can hurt us and it can bite us."
Top scorer Paul Millsap, a 45.4 percent shooter on the season, is 29 of 73 from the field (39.7 percent) during the losing streak. He’s posted a double-double in five of his last six games versus Washington.
Wall has averaged 20.0 points and 11.7 assists in the teams’ first three matchups.