Wizards hold on to sixth place in Eastern Conference but fifth still possible

Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) passes the ball to center Marcin Gortat (4), from Poland, under Milwaukee Bucks forward Jeff Adrien (12) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, April 12, 2014, in Washington. The Wizards won 104-91. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
I see an opening. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The Wizards held on to the sixth spot after their 104-91 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday at Verizon Center but the Eastern Conference playoff race remains unsettled entering the last half-week of the regular season.

Washington (42-38) has a one-game lead over the Charlotte Bobcats with two games remaining and can avoid sliding to seventh by winning their last two games against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat and Boston.

“It’s up to us to just finish out this regular season, keep our sixth seed and move on into the playoffs,” Bradley Beal said after scoring 26 points against Milwaukee.

The Wizards are obviously focused on sixth, but Washington doesn’t have to settle because it still has a chance to move up to fifth place. Brooklyn (43-36) has a 1½ game lead for fifth, but the Wizards own the tiebreaker after sweeping the regular season series.

The Nets have three games this week against Orlando, New York and Cleveland and have a magic number of two to clinch the fifth spot. But Brooklyn has lost its past two games to create an opportunity for the Wizards. Charlotte (41-39), which finishes the season with Atlanta and Chicago, owns the tiebreaker if it ends up tied with the Wizards.

“Yea it’s back and forth. I mean you have to try to win the last few games.  Next game is going to be Miami, it’s going to be a tough one,” John Wall said. “That how you set your destiny. Since [Charlotte] lost the other night we have to keep winning. I mean we go to a tie, they get a spot and we don’t, so we’re just trying to go out and play the right way and finish and keep our heads going the right way and playing the right way going into the playoffs.”

The Atlanta Hawks secured the eighth seed with Saturday’s win against the Heat, which is a half-game behind the Indiana Pacers for the top seed. Chicago is currently in third place but has just a one-game lead over the Toronto Raptors. Toronto holds the tiebreaker as the division leader.

The Wizards could still wind up finishing in one of three positions or possibly face four different postseason opponents. Among that quartet, the Wizards only have a winning against the Bulls but the Raptors are returning to the playoffs after a similar six-year postseason drought. Washington struggled against Indiana in the first half of the season but the Pacers (55-26) have been in the midst of a collapse since the all-star break.

The Pacers have a magic number of one to clinch first place and homecourt advantage in the East after Sunday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Miami has to win its last two games against Washington and Philadelphia and hope that Indiana loses on Wednesday in Orlando. But with the Heat no longer in control of its destiny, LeBron James might continue his tradition of sitting out the final week of the regular season in advance of the playoffs.

When asked if the Wizards had a preferred first-round opponent, Coach Randy Wittman said, “No. As soon as you start trying to figure out that you want to play a certain team, it never happens. Whoever we are going to play is going to be a tough matchup. It is going to be tough games. I do not care who we play. We are not really concerned. We’ve proven that we have beaten anybody that we are going to have to face this year. I am not worried about that. We are in the sixth spot right now and if we just worry about ourselves, and worry about ourselves we are going to stay in the sixth spot.”

But again, the fifth spot is still up for grabs.

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Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Brandon Parker · April 12

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