The Wizards may be in a tough spot going down the stretch run of the regular season, but it's really not that much pressure for a team that didn't have high expectations placed on them externally coming into the season.
Despite a 2-8 start, here they are, a virtual lock for a top 4 seed in the East playoffs and a good chance to hold on to the third spot.
They looked flat for most of Wednesday's 104-100 win over the Atlanta Hawks, coming back from a 14-point deficit to win at the Verizon Center with one more home game before emarking on their toughest road stretch. But the Wizards can't lose sight of the fact that they're in an enviable position and aren't far from contending with the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers above them.
"It was just probably our swag," said Bradley Beal, who scored a team-high 28 points to go with nine rebounds as he described the difference in their fourth-quarter play. "We just started having fun. I felt like we were just tense with everything. We were afraid to make mistakes. We were passing up open shots, making too many passes. ... We were kind of all over the place in the first half. We just got back to having fun, getting after it on defense and of course that was leading us to easy buckets in transition."
Through three quarters, the Wizards (43-28) were shooting 25 of 69, or 36.2%. In the final 12 minutes, Markieff Morris made 4 of 5, Beal 3 of 4 and Kelly Oubre 2 of 3.
They were 13 of 26, or 50%, in a 37-point fourth. Morris had consecutive baskets, the latter a reverse layup, when the Wizards pulled away at the mid-point. Beal had a steal that led to his own three-pointer in transition.
John Wall blocked a jumper by Dennis Schroder and assisted to Beal in transition for a dunk. Wall completed a three-point play when he was fouled on a drive and then had a steal that led to his own dunk.
When the flurry was over, the Wizards were up 91-80.
The Hawks were held to 34 of 86 shooting, or 39.5%. But the Wizards still will have to be better than this on both ends after Friday's home game vs. the Brooklyn Nets.
They play at the Cavs on Saturday and then have challenging matchups with the L.A. Clippers, Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors. The only soft touch on the trip is vs. the L.A. Lakers.
Morris and Marcin Gortat also have to be more involved early for the dynamic offensive team they've been most of the season to return. While Gortat avoided foul trouble in this game, he never was totally in sync offensively and played 28 minutes. Morris picked up his third foul just seconds into the third quarter.
"We did a great job defensively, except for them making some tough threes at the end," Wall said. "We just have to do a better job of protecting the paint and if they do drive not foul them."
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