The Charlotte Hornets and Washington Wizards will meet Sunday to end the regular season, but the game could be a primer for a future battle as well.
Sunday’s matchup comes before each team will play in an Eastern Conference postseason play-in game Tuesday night. That could come against each other.
The outcome on Sunday should help sort out the eighth, ninth and 10th seeds.
The Wizards (33-38) topped the Cleveland Cavaliers 120-105 on Friday night to clinch a spot in the play-in round.
“It’s huge that we kept on persevering and kept on grinding,” Wizards forward Robin Lopez said. “We still have a lot more to do.”
The Hornets (also 33-38), who lost their fourth game in a row, 118-109 in overtime to the Knicks in New York on Saturday, could be staying in Washington.
Sunday’s winner could grab the eighth spot, depending in part on how the Indiana Pacers (also 33-38) finish the season. The three teams will hold the Nos. 8-10 seeds in some order.
Charlotte welcomed forward Miles Bridges back to the court Saturday after he missed more than a week because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. He poured in 30 points in 34 minutes off the bench.
“The emotional and spiritual lift he brings us,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “The guys have really bought into his competitive spirit. He has done a lot of leading. … Just having that spirit, that leadership back.”
Charlotte will look for a bounce-back performance from rookie guard LaMelo Ball, who didn’t play after the third quarter as part of a coach’s decision.
The Wizards are enjoying their spot in the conference’s top 10, but they also know that to be in a full playoff series, there’s more work ahead.
“How fun this last stretch has been for us,” Lopez said. “Playing like we are has been a lot of fun for us.”
The Wizards realize that they need to keep their recent momentum.
“We chipped away,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of making it through the season. “We were down and took a bunch of punches. But we kept standing back up and fighting for one another and put us in this position.”
It’s a special point in the season for Charlotte as well, knowing the schedule will extend beyond the regular season.
“This is where you want to be,” Borrego said. “This is why you play.”
Wizards guard Russell Westbrook racked up 21 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds Friday night, allowing him to extend the NBA’s all-time record for triple-doubles to 183. He has 37 triple-doubles this season, including seven games in a row with at least 15 assists.
Yet the team’s latest accomplishment has made Westbrook pleased.
“I knew once we got clicking, we’d be in position to make a run,” Westbrook said.
Washington guard Bradley Beal has missed three straight games because of a hamstring injury. Beal is second in the NBA in scoring with 31.4 points per game. Washington also was without Raul Neto, who has a hamstring issue.
With some of the changes, Chandler Hutchison made his first start of the season in Friday’s game.
“We have a lot of really good role players who understand what they do,” Brooks said.
The Wizards are 18-17 in home games, including their last three in a row.
Charlotte won March 30 by 114-104 at Washington to improve to 2-0 this season against the Wizards.