Barely 24 hours after suffering a crippling loss in their quest of at least reaching the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, the Washington Wizards become the first team to play a back-to-back in the NBA bubble when they take on the Indiana Pacers on Monday afternoon near Orlando.
The Wizards(24-42) found themselves chasing Orlando (31-35) and Brooklyn (31-35) in the battle for the seventh and eighth spots entering the eight-game restart. But playing without John Wall, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, Washington lost its opener to the team with the worst record among remaining teams in the West -- Phoenix -- before falling short a second straight time when beaten 118-110 by the Nets in a critical showdown on Sunday afternoon.
The losses have left Washington seven games back of both Orlando and Brooklyn, needing to get within four of at least one of them to earn a shot at the play-in tournament.
Unfortunately for the Wizards, the road back into contention in the East appears rockier than the one that deflated their hopes. That includes drawing Indiana (40-26) in the second half of the back-to-back Monday.
All teams were scheduled with one back-to-back in the bubble. Memphis and San Antonio will complete theirs later Monday.
After Indiana, the Wizards' finishing schedule has Philadelphia, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee and Boston.
"It's not over," Wizards coach Scott Brooks demanded to reporters afterward. "The odds are against us, but we've got to keep fighting."
Thomas Bryant gave Washington a chance against Brooklyn, pouring in a career-high 30 points. He completed a double-double with 13 rebounds.
In the Pacers, the Wizards will encounter a team that opened its finishing stretch in impressive manner with a 127-121 win over Philadelphia.
T.J. Warren was a one-man wrecking crew for the Pacers, exploding for nine 3-pointers and 53 points Saturday.
The nine 3-pointers were five more than the six-year veteran had ever recorded in an NBA game. Meanwhile, the 53 points bettered his previous best by 13.
His teammates were impressed, but not shocked.
"T.J. Warren been scoring his whole life -- since his AAU days to (North Carolina) State," Victor Oladipo gushed afterward. "He was born to get buckets, so it's no surprise to any of us that he was able to do what he did tonight."
Oladipo was one of four members of Warren's supporting cast to score in double figures in the win, going for 15.
Coincidentally, Warren's previous high game of 40 points had come at Washington in 2017 as a member of the Suns.
Warren had a team-high 21 points, making two of his six 3-point shots, when the Pacers beat the Wizards 121-106 at home in November in their only previous meeting this season. Indiana placed seven players in double figures in that one, including Doug McDermott, whose 19 points off the bench were fueled by 4-for-6 accuracy on 3s.
Beal, currently sidelined by a shoulder injury, had 30 points in the loss for the Wizards. Bryant recorded a 20-point, 11-rebound double-double.
--Field Level Media