WASHINGTON — The Washington Wizards are running out of time to right the ship before the NBA Playoffs begin.
What was looking like a signature win turned into a stunning loss Thursday night in Cleveland. The Wizards led by 17 points after Bradley Beal’s 3-pointer with 7:35 to go, but LeBron James (33 points, 14 assists, nine rebounds) and the Cavaliers rallied for a 119-115 win.
The Wizards have lost three in a row and 12 of their last 18 to fall into seventh place with three games remaining in the regular season, starting Friday night when they host the Atlanta Hawks.
However, a seventh-place finish would likely mean a matchup with the now-No. 2 Boston Celtics, who will be without Kyrie Irving for the playoffs.
“We want to play better. We haven’t played well,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks told the Washington Post before the game. “We’re not concerned of our matchups. We’re not concerned with who we’re playing. We’re not concerned where we’re seeded right now. We just got to be focused on how we’re playing and hopefully we’ll play much better than we’ve (been).”
In his third game back after a long absence, Wizards point guard John Wall had 28 points, 14 assists and three steals.
Washington trailed by 15 points in the second quarter but cut the margin to five by halftime and took control in the third.
However, Wall and Beal (19 points, nine assists) combined to go 2-for-9 from the field in the fourth quarter. Wall finished with six turnovers, including one in the final seconds that sealed the loss. Six Wizards scored in double figures.
“We wanted to win more than anything but the chips didn’t fall that way but we move on,” Beal told the Post. “It’s definitely a statement game for both teams. They showed us what they’re bringing. We showed them what we’re bringing. So, I’m curious to see what happens if that matchup happens.”
Kelly Oubre Jr’s long-range shooting woes continued in the loss. He went 0-for-2 from three and is 2-for-35 beyond the arc in his last seven games.
The Hawks (22-57) remain last in the Eastern Conference and have lost 13 of 15 after dropping back-to-backs to the Miami Heat on Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Miami rested Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic and James Johnson one day after clinching a playoff berth and still routed the Hawks 115-86.
The Hawks trailed 53-47, but Miami pulled away with a 31-21 third quarter.
“The guys are still trying. They are busting it at both ends,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, not for lack of effort and hustle.”
Taurean Prince led Atlanta with 20 points, and Damion Lee and Tyler Dorsey each had 15. Hawks guard Antonius Cleveland returned after missing 18 games with a left ankle injury. He last played on Dec. 18 for the Mavericks. Cleveland scored five points and grabbed two rebounds in 12 minutes.
“On his rebounds, he showed his length and athleticism,” Budenholzer told the Journal-Constitution. “He’s still trying to get comfortable for us.”
With the loss, Atlanta maintains the third-worst record in the NBA, two games worse than the Dallas Mavericks. With three games remaining, the Hawks are likely to finish in the bottom three and therefore have at least a 50/50 chance for a top three draft pick.
Washington took two of the first three meetings between the teams.