Give Round 1 to the Bobcats, who broke open a tight game with an 11-0 run late in the fourth quarter Wednesday night for a 98-85 win.
"It just shows you that times are changing," said Charlotte's Al Jefferson, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds. "We're both playing for something, and it's meaning a lot."
The result left Charlotte in seventh and Washington in sixth in the Eastern Conference, both with a nice cushion as they seek to end their respective playoff droughts. The Bobcats have won four of five as they close in on their first postseason berth since 2010, while the Wizards are nearly there for the first time since 2008.
And they play twice more — on March 31 and April 9. When was the last time anyone was excited to see that on the schedule?
"Whole different story now," said Kemba Walker, whose 16 points included four consecutive free throws during the decisive run. "Two teams who changed their organization around, and that's good to see, especially for us, especially for some of the guys that's here who've been through the struggles."
John Wall scored 23 points but went scoreless in the fourth for the Wizards, who afterward were less focused on history and more on the officiating. The Bobcats were whistled for only two fouls in the first half, and the momentum changed on Walker's mini-binge of free throws with 4:34 to play.
Neither team had led by more than six when it happened. Wall fouled Walker while Walker was attempting a 3-pointer. Walker was awarded three free throws, and Washington coach Randy Wittman was called for a technical foul after the second attempt.
Walker made the technical, and then made the last of the quartet to put the Bobcats ahead 87-80.
"You seen it on the screen. I ain't touch him. All he did is scream," Wall said. "Ref gave him a call all night because he was screaming. Can't do nothing about it but keep playing basketball. I think they made some unfortunate calls plenty of times."
Wall compounded matters by missing two free throws a half-minute later. Walker then hit a hang-in-the-air 3-pointer with the shot clock running down to make it a 10-point lead.
"I was really upset, I was mad," said Wall, explaining his pair of misses. "I tried to make them, but I was frustrated. ... Plenty of times I drove to the basket. I think I should have been to the line plenty more."
As for the technical, Wittman deadpanned an explanation when asked what he said to the official.
"I had a bad roast beef sandwich today," Wittman said. "And I told him, 'Don't go to this deli that I went to.'"
Wall went 10 for 19 from the field, while the rest of the Wizards starting lineup was 15 for 42. Perhaps a sign of trying too hard: He got reckless trying for a one-handed driving dunk late in the third quarter and was called for a charge as he crashed to the floor.
"I think this was like a playoff game," Wall said. "They called it a little too tight with some calls that didn't go our way. But that's still not the reason why we lost."
Gerald Henderson went 6 for 9 and scored 13 points for the Bobcats after missing the previous five games with a strained right calf. His return, while welcome, had potential chemistry issues because Chris Douglas-Roberts had played so well in Henderson's absence.
To make sure everyone was on the same page, coach Steve Clifford called a team meeting Wednesday morning to announce that Henderson would start, but that playing time going forward would hinge on matchups against certain opponents.
Douglas-Roberts played 21 minutes off the bench and scored 10 points.
"He understood the circumstance, and he still played a great game," Walker said. "He doesn't take anything personally, and that's how it should be in this league."
Notes: Bobcats G Gary Neal, acquired last month in a trade, did not play due to "an internal team issue," according to Clifford. Clifford said Neal will return Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Neither Clifford nor Neal would elaborate. "It was a mistake, something that happens in the confines of the team," Neal said. "We talked about it, we addressed it, and it's behind us now." ... The Bobcats improved to 2-8 against Southeast Division opponents.
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