The streaking Washington Wizards begin a stretch of seven road games over their next eight outings Friday when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Washington (28-34) rebounded from just its second loss in its last 13 games with a 116-107 won over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
The Wizards saw their longest winning streak since 2001 end in a 146-143, overtime shootout against San Antonio on Monday, but rallied Wednesday on the strength of 27 points from Bradley Beal; an 18-point, 18-rebound, 14-assist triple-double from Russell Westbrook; and 18 points with nine rebounds from Alex Len.
“Bounce-back ability is such an important characteristic of a player and a team,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said in his postgame press conference.
Westbrook broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record for most triple-doubles in a month on Monday, reaching 12. He is now up to 13 in April, 30 for the season and at 176 in his career, is just five away from tying Oscar Robertson for most in NBA history.
Most significantly, Westbrook’s all-around play has helped elevate the Wizards into the chase for the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. They head into Friday’s contest in the No. 10 spot, two games ahead of Chicago for the last berth entering play Thursday and 1.5 games behind Indiana for No. 9.
“We understand how important all these games are,” Len said in Wednesday’s postgame press conference. “We’ve got another 10 games to go. We’ve got a chance to make the playoffs.”
Cleveland (21-41) welcomes Washington looking to play spoiler. The Cavaliers are not mathematically eliminated from play-in tournament contention. But with the Cavs at No. 13 in the East and seven games behind the Wizards with 10 games to play, their prospects are unfavorable.
Cleveland dropped its fourth consecutive contest on Wednesday in a 109-104 decision against Orlando. Darius Garland scored 25 points in the loss, picking up the scoring slack with 24.5-points-per-game scorer Collin Sexton missing his third straight game due to a concussion.
The Cavaliers were also without Lamar Stevens and Isaiah Hartenstein due to concussions; Dylan Windler with a knee injury; Larry Nance Jr. with a fractured thumb; Matthew Dellavedova with a neck injury; and lost Taurean Prince last week to season-ending ankle surgery.
Avoiding a slow start is critical for Cleveland on Friday after the Cavaliers dug a deep hole on Wednesday. They outscored Orlando in the fourth quarter 43-27 but fell behind by 21 after the third quarter.
“It’s a double-edged sword in that sense,” Jarrett Allen said in his postgame press conference. “We have it in us. We did everything we needed to do in the fourth quarter, then the other side is, ‘Why didn’t you do it earlier?’ You wouldn’t have had to do all this in the fourth quarter if you’d just come out in the first three.”
Allen said a full-court press implemented in the second half might be a scheme worth revisiting before the Cavaliers face another similar deficit.
In its last matchup with Washington on April 25, Cleveland was on the other end of a big fourth quarter, outscored by the Wizards 32-17 in the decisive period. Washington won 119-110 behind 33 points from Beal.
–Field Level Media