Around the time they entered the locker room following their 114-93 victory over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat’s B-team, the Wizards were feeling good on two fronts. First, the win helped them hold on to the sixth seed and move within 1½ games of the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference. And second, the Atlanta Hawks entered the fourth quarter against the seventh-place Charlotte Bobcats with a 15-point lead.
But by the time the locker room had cleared, leaving only John Wall remaining to speak to reporters, the Bobcats had rallied to defeat the Hawks, 95-93, on a running jumper by Chris Douglas-Roberts, making sure the final day of the regular season will matter.
The Wizards (43-38) still need to beat the Boston Celtics or hope that the Bobcats lose to Chicago on Wednesday to ensure that they finish no worse than sixth in the East. A Wizards loss and a Bobcats win would drop Washington to seventh, setting up a first-round matchup against the Heat, which secured the No. 2 seed with Monday’s loss at Verizon Center.
Even without the pressure of avoiding the Heat, the Wizards were already focused on winning in Boston to enter the postseason on a good roll. “We want to win the game. We want to build the habits, winning habits. We want to build the right style of playing and hopefully we’re going to do this in Boston,” Marcin Gortat said. “End of the day, we want to go into playoffs with a winning record and with the mental preparation of the last two games we won and we were pretty good.”
The fifth seed still remains a possibility – albeit a longshot – but the Wizards would need Brooklyn to lose its next two games against New York and Cleveland. The Knicks didn’t help the Wizards much when Washington needed them to lose twice to clinch a playoff berth, but the rivalry against the Nets could lead to an upset on Tuesday, which put even more intrigue with the finale.
“We know we are still fighting for a seeding spot, so the last game is pretty big for us, just like this game was,” Wall said. “We just need to go out there and play the way we know how to play as a team, just moving the ball and have different guys score the ball and lead us in scoring.”
Indiana will be the top seed in the East and open the first round against the eighth-place Hawks. But the rest of the conference is unresolved because the Wizards could potentially face three opponents in the first round.
Toronto and Chicago both have the same record (48-33) but the Raptors would clinch the third seed with a win against the Knicks. The Bulls would need a Raptors loss and a win in Charlotte to claim third.
“We don’t need to think about what’s going on outside our control,” Nene said. “The team is doing well, we still have one more game and I hope we can play the right direction, the right way to prepare ourselves for the best position. The best we can to step in the playoffs in a good condition.”