Hornets, Wizards trending in different directions

WASHINGTON — The Washington Wizards are locked into home-court advantage for the opening round of the NBA playoffs, but they aren’t exactly jelling defensively with the postseason less than two weeks away.

Meanwhile, the Charlotte Hornets are currently on the outside of the playoff picture yet are hitting their stride at just the right time.

The two Southeast Division foes meet for the fourth and final time during the regular season Tuesday night as the Wizards return home following a five-game road trip.

After starting with wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers, Washington (46-31) dropped the final three games, all against Western Conference contenders. The finale, 139-115 setback at the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, ensured the team’s first three-game skid since Nov. 11-16 when they fell to 2-8.

The recent 5-7 slide since March 13 and Toronto’s ascension dropped Washington to fourth in the East, one game back of the Raptors.

“I mean, we don’t like it,” Wizards guard Bradley Beal said of returning home after a disappointing road trip. “We feel like we lost those three games and we let things get out of control a little bit. We just have got to move forward and get up and get them back at home and regroup, get our mind fresh and ready to go come Tuesday.”

The latest loss came in part because Stephen Curry dropped 42 points and nine 3-pointers on the Wizards. Golden State never trailed, shot 56.2 percent from the field and sank 16 3-pointers against a Wizards defense that remains vulnerable to deep shooters.

Washington ranks 23rd in defending the 3-point arc as opponents are shooting 36.4 percent from long range.

The Warriors, who led 67-57 at halftime before scoring 39 points in the third quarter, also tallied 28 points off Washington’s 15 turnovers. The Wizards’ bench played the entire fourth quarter and cut the deficit to eight early in the period, but would get no closer.

“We had trouble taking care of the basketball in the first half. Eleven turnovers gave them 20 points in the first half, and I thought that that was the difference in that half,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “The second half just carried over. They were making shots.”

Charlotte, 7-3 over its last 10 games, has moved closer to landing a playoff berth. The Hornets (36-41) enter the matchup having won the previous meeting against the Wizards and riding a three-game winning streak. The turnaround began with a 98-93 victory over Washington on March 18. The surge continued last week with road wins over playoff teams Toronto and Oklahoma City.

Despite Russell Westbrook’s 40th triple-double on the season, the Hornets downed the Thunder 113-101 on Sunday. Kemba Walker scored 29 points for Charlotte, which received 44 points from its reserves and forced 24 turnovers.

“When our level of play off the bench is very high, we just play with a lot of energy,” said Frank Kaminsky, who had 18 points. “Then the starters can get more rest when we are playing well. If we can play like that going forward, I think we will be in a good spot.”

The win moved Charlotte within one game of Miami and Indiana. The Heat and Pacers are tied for the eighth and final playoff spot.

After facing the Wizards, the Hornets host Miami on Wednesday.

Sunday’s balanced attack on both ends showed why the Hornets are clicking.

“It was great. We were on a string on both ends of the floor,” said Jeremy Lamb, who added 13 points. “Played good defense, did good gang rebounding. Even though Russ still had 40 and still had a triple-double, we made him take a lot of shots to do it. That was good. Just an overall great win for us.”