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Wizards seek to gain ground on high-scoring Hawks

Mar 7, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Pistons guard R.J. Hampton (14) defends against Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) in the first quarter at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Wizards will have an opportunity to make up more ground in the playoff race on Wednesday when they host the Atlanta Hawks for the first of a two-game series.

The Wizards, who beat the Detroit Pistons 119-117 at the buzzer on Tuesday, are in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, the final spot in the play-in tournament. The Hawks are No. 8 after a 130-128 road loss to the Miami Heat on Monday, and they lead Washington by just one game.

Washington and Atlanta met for the first time this season on Feb. 28, with the Wizards coming back to take a 119-116 road win. The teams will face off again on Thursday in the nation’s capital before completing the series on April 5 in Atlanta.

Washington ended a two-game losing streak by beating the cellar-dwelling Pistons. Bradley Beal misfired on a driving shot with one second left, but Daniel Gafford was able to tip in the rebound for the winning points.

“It’s always a trap game when you’re playing teams with their main players out,” Washington’s Kyle Kuzma said of the Pistons. “So for us, we just had to figure the game out and try to get a win. That’s the bottom line. It’s all about winning.”

Beal scored 32 in the victory, shooting 14-for-21 from the field. He has scored 30-plus points in back-to-back games and 11 times this season.

Beal, who went for 37 points in the earlier meeting with Atlanta, recorded one steal against the Pistons, giving him 763 for his career and surpassing Greg Ballard for the second most in franchise history. John Wall holds Washington’s top total, 976 thefts.

The Wizards will have Kristaps Porzingis available on Wednesday after he missed the first game with Atlanta due to left knee soreness. Porzingis, who scored 24 points on Tuesday, is one of three players in the league who is averaging 20 points, eight rebounds and one block. The others are the Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis and the Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid.

The Hawks have not had trouble scoring. The 43 points they notched in the first quarter on Monday was the most in they have produced in 601 quarters against Miami. They had seven players score in double figures for the sixth time in 2022-23.

The Hawks have scored 100-plus points in 40 straight games, tied for the third-longest such streak in franchise history and the second-longest active streak in the NBA. Over that stretch the team is averaging 119.7 points and shooting 49.3 percent from the floor, 37.4 percent from 3-point range and 81.8 percent on free throws.

However, the points haven’t always equaled success for Atlanta, which fell to one game below .500.

“We’ve been really moving the ball, scoring,” leading scorer Trae Young said. “We’ve just got to make a little more effort on the defensive end.”

Atlanta has lost two in a row and is 3-3 since the All-Star break, when the team fired coach Nate McMillan. New coach Quin Snyder said he isn’t as concerned about immediate results as he is the big picture.

“I want us to be the best team we can be by the end of the year,” Snyder said. “And that’s really what it comes down to, how can we keep improving? Obviously, we want to win — record, standings, playoffs — but I think we’ll be better off if we continue to improve.”

–Field Level Media

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