With a leg up in the race for home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs and a second straight Central Division title secured, the Indiana Pacers are looking to hone their game before the postseason.
Same goes for the Washington Wizards, but for much different reasons.
Indiana looks to avoid a season-worst fourth straight road loss while dealing the Wizards their fifth defeat in six games Friday night.
The Pacers (52-20) have won back-to-back division championships for the first time since 1998-99 and 1999-2000 – the latter season being the only time the franchise has appeared in the NBA finals – after beating Miami 84-83 on Wednesday.
Indiana had lost three of four, but it extended its lead to three over the Heat for first place in the East.
”This is a game that will hopefully get us back on track. It’s one game,” said Paul George, who finished with 23 points and eight rebounds. "This is one step closer to playing good basketball to end this year.”
Roy Hibbert had 21 points despite feeling groggy after taking an elbow from LeBron James, and David West hit the decisive 3-pointer with 50.2 seconds left.
West said the victory was just another notch in the Pacers’ belt as the postseason approaches.
"We’re just going to take it as a tough, tough win against a quality team. We’re not going to look to deep into it," West said. "Obviously, we knew what was at stake in terms of fighting for the top spot."
Washington (36-35) simply is trying to hold onto sixth place as it now sits only 1 1/2 games ahead of seventh-place Charlotte after Wednesday’s 99-93 home loss to Phoenix.
The Wizards fell behind by 25 in the third quarter before cutting the deficit to three with 1:30 left.
"We didn’t have any intensity," coach Randy Wittman said. "That’s what we’ve got to find again. That’s why we’ve struggled. We just show up and see how the game is going to play out before we dictate how hard we’re going to play. We’ve got to clean that up."
John Wall scored 29 points and mostly blamed Washington’s lack of defensive effort. The Wizards allowed the Suns to shoot 49.3 percent and hit 14 of 28 from 3-point range.
Washington ranks in the bottom third of the league in field-goal percentage defense at 46.3.
"We’ve got to quit feeling sorry for ourselves, which we have a tendency to do," Wittman said. "We’re big boys here, and we’ve got to buckle up."
It likely won’t get any easier against the Pacers, who have won 11 of the last 12 meetings, including both in dominating fashion this season.
After beating the Wizards 93-73 on Nov. 29, Indiana held Washington to a season-low 32.1 percent from the field and a season worst for points in a 93-66 win Jan. 10.
That also marked the fewest points the Pacers have allowed all season.
Bradley Beal scored a team-best 17 points for the Wizards in the last meeting, but his streak of 17 straight games in double figures ended after he scored eight Wednesday.
Beal missed the end of the first half and the first few minutes of the third quarter to get treatment for a right hip pointer, and he said he hopes to play in this contest.
Indiana’s only loss in the series since 2010 came in its last visit to Washington on April 6, when Wall had 37 points while George scored two and missed all eight field-goal attempts in the Wizards’ 104-85 victory.
Wall has totaled 21 on 8-of-29 shooting in the two defeats this season.