Wizards look to narrow gap on Hawks in playoff race

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The two teams battling for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference will square off Friday when the Washington Wizards host the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks are currently tied with Charlotte for the No. 9 spot in the playoff race, 1 1/2 games ahead of Washington.

The teams have split the first two meetings this season, each winning on their home court. Four of the last six matchups have been decided by seven or fewer points, including the 118-111 Atlanta victory on Nov. 1 in the most recent meeting. They play for the final time April 6 in Atlanta.

Washington has won eight of its last 11 meetings against the Hawks at Capital One Arena dating back to 2016. The Wizards beat Atlanta 122-111 on Oct. 28 in Washington.

Atlanta put together a strong second half on Thursday to beat the Chicago Bulls 130-124. The Hawks scored 40 points in the fourth quarter and used a late 11-0 run to erase a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit. Atlanta has won four of its last six.

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Trae Young scored 39 points and was 7-for-9 on 3-pointers, four of them in the fourth quarter. Young, who sprained his left ankle against Boston on Tuesday, had been a game-time decision because of the injury.

“You love to see him knocking down those shots,” Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said. “He’s a confident kid and in the first quarter, he looked like he was battling trying to fight through the ankle and didn’t really have his lift. In the second half, he came out aggressive and some of the shots he was missing in the first half, he started to knock those shots down.”

Young is averaging 27.9 points and 9.3 assists for the season, but only 20.5 points against the Wizards.

Washington hasn’t played since Tuesday when it defeated the Detroit Pistons 116-113 to open a three-game homestand.

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The Wizards are led by Kyle Kuzma, who averages 17 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Kuzma has a career-high 23 double-doubles this season and posted his first career triple-double on Feb. 10 against Brooklyn. Kuzma is averaging 19.5 points and 7.0 rebounds against Atlanta this season.

Kuzma scored 21 points in the win over Detroit and blocked a shot in the fourth quarter that led to a dunk and gave the Wizards the lead to stay.

“Just seeing that defensive play that Kuz made right then and there, to get that block for us, to get us out there in transition, really helped us,” said teammate Thomas Bryant.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is averaging 11.9 points and has registered 32 points and 12 rebounds in two games against the Hawks this season.

The Wizards are trying to make a playoff run despite the absence of high-scoring Bradley Beal (season-ending left wrist surgery) and Kristaps Porzingis (right knee bruise). Porzingis has not played since being acquired in a trade with Dallas at the Feb. 10 deadline.

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He has been participating in 5-on-5 drills this week and could return soon. Porzingis hasn’t played since Jan. 29.

Atlanta has played the last seven games without second-leading scorer John Collins (right foot sprain) and Thursday was without Onyeka Okongwu (concussion protocol).

–Field Level Media

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