The Boston Celtics have all but lost any shot of earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Their success against the Washington Wizards could go a long way in determining if the Celtics can clinch the No. 2 spot.
Playing the Wizards in the first of two matchups over the next four days, Boston tries to get back on track at home Friday night before another crucial road showdown this weekend.
The Celtics (54-24) lost 97-81 at conference-leading Chicago on Thursday, falling four games behind the Bulls with four games remaining. Any loss by Boston or victory by Chicago would end the Celtics' chances of claiming the top spot in the East.
"We've got to be better than this," Kevin Garnett said Thursday after the Celtics were outrebounded 44-35 and had one of their worst shooting games of the season at 38.4 percent. "No way we can come out and put an effort like this in a game this big."
The defending Eastern Conference champions -- 8-9 since March 6 -- have another big road game Sunday against Miami, which pulled even with the Celtics for second following their defeat Thursday. Boston, though, can't overlook its two games with Washington if it wants to claim the second seed.
The Wizards (21-57), who defeated Boston 85-83 at home Jan. 22, close out their home schedule Monday against the Celtics.
In the teams' last matchup in Boston, the Celtics won 114-83 on Nov. 17 with Paul Pierce leading six players in double figures with 23 points. It is tied for the Celtics' most lopsided home win this season.
Washington, loser of five of seven in Boston, is a league-worst 3-36 on the road. Coach Flip Saunders' team, however, has gotten two of those wins in its last three contests outside the nation's capital.
The Wizards, though, enter this contest following one of their worst defensive efforts of the season, a 136-112 loss at Indiana on Wednesday. It was the most points allowed by Washington since a 144-139 overtime win at Phoenix on Dec. 22, 2006.
"Energy caught up to us," Saunders said after his team's season-best three-game winning streak was snapped. "I was worried before the game. Guys just didn't seem to have that pep in their step. We almost really lost the game in the first seven minutes."
The Wizards are allowing a league-worst 109.4 points per game on the road.
Boston is shooting 57.9 percent from the field, including 11 of 21 from 3-point range, in winning its last two home games.
Wizards rookie point guard John Wall will play his first game in Boston after missing the Nov. 17 matchup with a sprained left foot. The No. 1 overall pick had 16 points, six rebounds and four assists Jan. 22.
Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, second in the league with 11.2 assists per game, is averaging 12.5 points and 11.0 assists versus the Wizards this season.