WASHINGTON — The Washington Wizards slipped up literally and figuratively against the short-handed and skidding Atlanta Hawks.
They did not start or finish the Southeast Division matchup like a playoff team. Regardless, the Wizards moved to the brink of the franchise’s first postseason berth since 2008 all the same.
Guard John Wall scored 25 points and forward Drew Gooden had 16 points as the Wizards rallied and then fended off the Hawks 101-97 on Saturday night.
Center Marcin Gortat had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Wizards (38-35), winners of two straight after dropping four of five. Sixth in the Eastern Conference, Washington can officially reach the postseason with a New York Knicks loss at the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.
“That’s awesome,” Gortat said about the postseason opportunity. “It’s all about playing in playoffs. That’s the dream of a lot of players. Hopefully, we can achieve that.”
The Wizards moved within one game of the idle and fifth-place Brooklyn Nets with nine games remaining.
Guard Jeff Teague scored 19 points and forward Paul Millsap added 17 points for the Hawks (31-41). Atlanta, now 1 1/2 games ahead of the Knicks for the East’s eighth and final playoff spot, has lost six straight and is 6-20 since Feb. 1.
Washington went from trailing by nine points in the third quarter to leading by 10 with 2:38 remaining in the game, but Atlanta scored the next eight points. Fouled shooting a 3-pointer, guard Lou Williams sank three free throws. Teague then converted a three-point play after Wall missed two free throws.
Gortat missed an open layup on Washington’s next possession but then blocked Teague’s attempted game-tying shot with 12 seconds left.
“I’m glad we won that game. Otherwise, I’d probably shoot myself at home,” Gortat joked.
After a timeout, Teague maneuvered inside but missed a contested layup.
“We ran a play for that and I had it,” Teague said. “I just missed, undershot it. Should have made it.”
Gooden closed the scoring by hitting two free throws with 7.8 seconds remaining.
“Disappointed in that,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of his team’s rough finish, “but there’s not a bad win in this league. We’ll take the win.”
The game was part of an NHL-NBA doubleheader at the Verizon Center. The Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals played Saturday afternoon. Reminders lingered behind Saturday night.
Players slipped throughout the game on the hardwood and Washington forward Trevor Ariza suffered a groin injury because of the condensation issues. He is questionable for Monday’s game at the Charlotte Bobcats.
“The floor was a little wet,” Ariza said. “Good thing nobody got seriously injured, but we got to work on that. Somebody could’ve really got hurt. We got to keep ourselves safe. I tried to play the game as fast as I can all the time, but after I fell and slipped, I slowed down for sure.”
After Friday night’s 91-78 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers, the Wizards trailed Atlanta by 10 points in the first quarter and 63-54 early in the third. Wall then keyed a 21-7 run, scoring 13 points in the final 7:16 of the quarter. His jumper and 3-pointer put Washington up for good at 75-70.
The All-Star point guard’s 3-pointer gave the Wizards their largest lead at 97-87 with 3:51 remaining.
“We’ve been having those lately,” Teague said of Atlanta’s suspect stretch of the second half. “We continued to play and had an opportunity. That’s all you can really ask for, an opportunity to win on the road.”
Without Kyle Korver (back) and DeMarre Carroll (flu) available, Atlanta trotted out its 22nd different starting lineup of the season. That unit included swingman Cartier Martin, who scored 13 points, and guard Shelvin Mack. The Hawks finished 9-for-31 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Six Wizards scored in double figures before the crowd of 17,996. Guard Bradley Beal had 14 points, Ariza added 13 and guard Andre Miller scored 10.
The Hawks led 21-11 in the first quarter and entered the halftime locker room up 52-50. Three-pointers from Martin, Teague and Millsap inside the opening four minutes of the third quarter pushed the Hawks’ lead to nine.
Atlanta continues pushing its luck with its losing ways.
“We just want to play better every game. Playing with energy, playing with effort. If we keep playing like this, W’s will come for us,” Atlanta’s point guard said.
NOTES: Atlanta C Pero Antic had 13 points and 12 rebounds. …The Hawks shot 55 percent from the field in the first half. … Wizards G Bradley Beal went 5 of 15 from the field. Washington’s second-leading scorer has gone 16 straight games without making at least half of his shots. … The Hawks return to Atlanta to host the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, the start of a three-game homestand. Washington heads on the road to face the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.