February 05, 2015

As disappointing as their latest result was, the Charlotte Hornets might have gotten something from it that could help them flourish against some key opponents heading into the All-Star break.

Nicolas Batum is coming off his best game in three weeks, though whether he holds up in the tail end of a back-to-back set Saturday night against the visiting Washington Wizards remains to be seen.

The Charlotte shooting guard has played the last two games but missed four of the previous six with a toe injury. After being limited to 5.8 points on 21.8 percent shooting and 21.4 from 3-point range in his past six games, Batum scored 21 points on 7 of 12 and 4 of 7 from long range in Friday's 98-95 home loss to Miami.

The Hornets (24-26) led at a timeout with 33 seconds left before faltering in the closing seconds to end a two-game winning streak, and while two late turnovers might have changed the outcome, they also got strong individual efforts from Marvin Williams and Kemba Walker to hang their hat on.

Williams had a season-high 27 points - his top scoring effort since 2011-12 - and is averaging 20.5 points on 62.7 percent shooting in his last four games. The forward had scored 9.7 points and shot 40.9 percent in his first 46 games.

Walker missed Wednesday's 106-97 home win over Cleveland with a knee injury but returned to score 20 points and hit 4 of 8 from 3-point range after being limited to 13.0 points on 7-of-27 shooting in his previous two contests.

Even so, coach Steve Clifford said there wasn't nearly enough from the team as a whole.

"You can't have that many guys go into the game ill-prepared mentally," said Clifford, whose bench scored 12 points on 4-of-20 shooting.

They now need to win three straight to enter the break over .500. Those games come at home against Washington and Chicago before closing the first half at Indiana - all teams they figure to compete with for playoff positioning in the second half.

The Wizards have won three of the last four meetings, including a 109-101 home win on Dec. 19 with John Wall scoring 27 points with 12 assists.

Washington (22-26) will be trying to win consecutive games for the first time since a four-game streak from Jan. 9-15. The Wizards are coming off Friday's 106-94 home win over Philadelphia, but it's part of a 3-7 span on which opponents have scored 111.7 points per game while shooting 48.3 percent and 42.9 from long range.

The 12-point win wasn't necessarily indicative of the way the game went with the Wizards jumping out to a 38-18 lead after the first quarter. Wall had 18 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and 10 assists for his first triple-double since April 9, 2014, against the Hornets. It was a solid encore performance to his 41-point effort in Wednesday's 134-121 loss to Golden State, and the point guard is shooting 65.2 percent in the last two games following a five-game span at 33.3.

"The 13 rebounds I really like just from a standpoint of getting back in there and helping," said Randy Wittman, who was coaching his first game back after missing the previous two for his brother's funeral. "We end up winning the rebounding game tonight because of that."

Against the 76ers, Bradley Beal led with 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting in his first start since Dec. 9, which was followed by a 16-game layoff with a stress reaction in his right leg before returning to come off the bench for eight games before Friday.

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