(Updated 11:12 p.m.)
The Wizards are in wait-and-see mode until Saturday when Bradley Beal has an MRI exam on his left knee. The Hawks already heard the worst about one of their leading men.
Immediately, Al Horford appeared injured, significantly so. Now test results have confirmed the worst for the Hawks, one of three teams in the Eastern Conference with a winning record. Atlanta's top big man and locker room leader suffered a complete tear of his right pectoral muscle Thursday against Cleveland.
For now Atlanta is not disclosing how long Horford will sit out. Depending on the rehab time frame and the Hawks' next course of action, a certain other Southeast division squad could move into prime playoff position. That is if Beal avoids a significant setback. The second-year guard left Washington's game on Friday night late in the fourth quarter against Minnesota after banging knees with a Timberwolves defender. Initial x-rays were negative. He will have an MRI on Saturday, the team announced.
Horford's injury occurred late in Atlanta's double-overtime win over Cleveland as he reached in for a steal against the Cavs' Anderson Varejao. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported the updated injury news with information from a team source.
How long could Horford sit? During the strike-shortened 2011-12 season, he suffered a torn left pectoral muscle in January 2012 and did not return until May, nearly four months later. Atlanta's final regular season finale this season comes April 16.
The seven-year veteran has performed at an All Star level this season, averaging 18.6 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 29 games. Atlanta (16-13) has other high-end talents, notably point guard Jeff Teague, power forward Paul Millsap and perimeter threat Kyle Korver. That core should keep the Hawks in the playoff mix, especially in the watered down Eastern Conference even if Horford ends up missing the remainder of the regular season. Expect Elton Brand, Gustavo Ayon and Pero Antic to pick up additional minutes.
However, not having Horford for possibly the final 53 games would likely take Atlanta out of contention for one of the coveted top four seeds, meaning homecourt advantage in the opening round of the postseason.
The Wizards have dealt with plenty of injuries already this season and are always a Nene setback away from doom. Now they're dealing with Beal.
Washington is currently sixth in the East at 12-14. Considering the franchise hasn't reached the postseason since 2008, simply reaching the playoffs counts as success. Then again, the ugliness that is the East has altered the goals. Outside of the Heat, Pacers and the Hawks (if healthy), the conference is a disaster, especially the Knicks and the imploding Nets. If Beal's situation proves minor and the Wizards can otherwise avoid their usual run of bad luck, this could be when they take advantage of misfortune elsewhere.