In recent weeks, Capital One Arena had been a breeding ground of belief that the Washington Wizards still could push their way into the postseason.
The team had won four straight games at home, including the first two of its current five-game homestand. Friday night brought a pivotal matchup against the Charlotte Hornets, a fellow playoff hopeful. In a game they desperately needed, the Wizards came out lifeless and never fully recovered from an early deficit in a 116-110 loss.
The defeat kept the Wizards (29-40) 3½ games behind eighth-place Miami for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot. The Heat fell to the Bucks on Friday night. Orlando (32-38) and Charlotte (31-37) are tied for ninth.
“If [the playoff race] goes down to the wire, we’ll definitely regret this,” forward Jabari Parker said.
The Wizards trailed most of the game despite a 40-point night from Bradley Beal. He was especially valuable for Washington in the first half, keeping the game from slipping away when Charlotte came out hot. The Hornets produced a 40-point first quarter and took a 66-53 lead into halftime.
Kemba Walker scored the game’s first basket on a slick hesitation move, gliding past his defender for a lay-in. Charlotte scored 26 of its first-quarter points in the paint. The Hornets led by 14 after one and quickly pushed it to 21 once the second quarter began. Scattered boos came down from the home crowd.
The Wizards climbed back into the game in the second, led by Beal’s three-point shooting. The guard scored 23 of his points in the first half, going 5 for 8 from beyond the arc. Back-to-back dunks from Parker trimmed the Hornets’ lead to five, but Charlotte put together an 8-0 run in the final 90 seconds before intermission.
“They made shots, we weren’t on the same page, and we let them get too comfortable,” forward Jeff Green said of the first half.
Charlotte led by double digits for the entirety of the third quarter, pushing its advantage to 21 after technical fouls were called on Trevor Ariza and Coach Scott Brooks for arguing a call.
The Hornets entered the game on a two-game skid and winners of just nine road games, but they found success by pounding the Wizards inside and taking advantage of turnovers early. They finished with 56 points in the paint and had 27 points off turnovers, all of which were earned in the first half. Washington had 14 turnovers before the break, tying their season average. They committed just three in the second half.
“Too many. Just too many,” Brooks said of the turnovers. “This team is fighting just like we’re fighting. And we gave them a lot of easy points in transition off of our turnovers.”
Outside of Beal, Green chipped in 20 for Washington and Parker scored 17 off the bench. Two days after they put up 59 bench points in a win over Orlando, the team got just 33 points from its reserves. But Parker provided a bright spot, finishing with 15 or more for the seventh straight game.
The Wizards entered the fourth quarter down by 17, but they chipped away, pulling within six on a layup from Troy Brown Jr. with 4:30 remaining. Charlotte answered with two quick threes, effectively settling matters.
“We had a chance to make it real interesting with one stop in the last minute,” Brooks said. “I knew that would be the case. Our guys are fighters; they’re going to continue to fight. Things didn’t go well, but it would have been a great comeback win because we just didn’t have it in that first half or first quarter offensively.”
Walker posed serious issues for the Wizards yet again, scoring 19 of his 28 points in the first half. The shifty guard entered Friday night’s game averaging 30.7 points against Washington in three matchups. He scored 47 in his previous trip here.
“He’s a matchup nightmare,” Brooks said before the game. “Scores in so many different ways, and when he gets hot, it’s hard to turn his game off.”
Washington lost a key piece of its rotation in the second quarter when Tomas Satoransky collided with Beal after a layup and went down with a concussion. His return was deemed doubtful in the third quarter, and Brooks said he would be evaluated Saturday.