WASHINGTON -- At a point when the Wizards would ideally be playing some of their best basketball of the season, they are suddenly trending in the wrong direction and damaging their playoff hopes along the way.
They lost to the Hawks on Friday night in Washington and have now dropped four of their last five. The last two were to Atlanta, who rank eighth in the East, two spots ahead of the Wizards who are in 10th.
Before these two meetings, the Wizards were just one game back from Atlanta and comfortably in the final spot for the play-in tournament. Now they are three games behind the Hawks and just a half-game ahead of the Bulls in 11th.
"Those definitely hurt. There's no moral victories, we've got to be a lot better," Bradley Beal said. "We understand the situation and the stakes coming into tonight, the seeding and what that could do for us. We've been laying eggs."
The reasons why the Wizards have lost these games have varied, but one commonality has been the inability to execute in clutch moments. Against the Hawks on Friday, they missed free throws and open threes late in the fourth quarter.
The Wizards were down 13 points to the Hawks and battled back to cut the deficit to two with 20 seconds left. They just couldn't close the deal and now sit 31-36 on the season with 15 games remaining.
"It sucks to be on this end of this result," Kristaps Porzingis said. "I don't have much else to say, honestly... What other option do we have than to dig down deep and find some energy and some positive in all this and keep going?"
The 15 games still left for the Wizards account for about 18% of the season overall. There is still time to go on a run and not only bolster their postseason odds, but possibly rise in the standings to make it more likely they advance through the play-in tournament.
If the season were to end today and they were 10th in the East, they would have to go play the ninth-ranked team on the road with one loss ending their season. In this case, they would travel to play at the Raptors, who are 20-13 in Toronto.
The ninth seed would mean hosting the first play-in game, though still with the threat of single-elimination. Earning the seventh or eight seeds would give the Wizards double-elimination in the play-in tournament. The sixth seed would earn a playoff series outright and avoid the play-in.
The Wizards know the value of having a top-two seed in the play-in tournament. They were eighth two years ago when they lost their first play-in game to the Celtics. They then won their second play-in game against the Pacers to earn a first round playoff series.
At this point, the math is starting to look unlikely for the sixth seed, as No. 6 Brooklyn is seven games ahead of the Wizards. That's a significant gap with only 15 games left to play. No. 7 Miami is 4 1/2 games ahead of the Wizards.
The Hawks (34-33) now being three games ahead of Washington in eighth means if they go 7-8 the rest of the way and finish with a .500 record (41-41), the Wizards would have to win 10 of their final 15 games just to tie them. That would make the final meeting between these teams, on April 5, very important because head-to-head record is the first playoff tiebreaker method.
Atlanta now leads the season series 2-1. If the Wizards win on April 5 to earn a split, the tiebreaker would come down to division record and the Wizards (7-5) currently have a better mark in the Southeast Division than the Hawks (7-8) do.
The Wizards have proven resilient this season, having already overcome a 10-game losing streak to reach this point. They have often followed losing skids with winning streaks.
They have also been good this season when healthy and right now everyone is available. But if they are to turn things around soon, they will have to do so against some good teams. Three of their next four opponents - Sixers, Cavs and Kings - are among the best in the league.
"We're going to keep competing. That's just the nature of this business and the nature of what we do," head coach Wes Unseld Jr. said. "It's the character of the guys in that locker room. They're going to keep fighting."