Despite a rough loss in their last game, the Washington Wizards have surged into the Eastern Conference playoff hunt and have a shot to close in on a team they're chasing.
The Wizards sit just below the postseason cutoff in the East's 10th spot ahead of Saturday night's home matchup against the Indiana Pacers, whose hold on seventh place should be considered tentative with a slew of tough opponents on the horizon.
Washington (30-31) lost nine of 13 entering the All-Star break but has gone 7-3 since to pull within two games of both eighth-place Detroit and Indiana (32-30) in the standings. Chicago is also giving chase and sits a half-game above in ninth.
The good news is that the upcoming schedules for the Pistons and Pacers aren't favorable. After this contest, Indiana faces a tough six-game stretch that features San Antonio, Toronto and Oklahoma City, while five of Detroit's next six are on the road.
The Wizards, meanwhile, will have an opportunity to climb the ladder if those teams stumble through those slates. Washington gets to face sub.-500 teams Utah, Denver, Philadelphia and New York over its next seven games following the Pacers.
Getting off to a good start against Indiana is paramount, and making things tough on Paul George should be the key.
George scored 40 points on 14-of-19 shooting, including 7 of 8 from 3-point range, in a 123-106 win in D.C. on Nov. 24, but when the teams met in Indianapolis on Jan. 15, he scored 21 but shot 6 of 19 and went 1 for 7 from long range in a 118-104 loss.
John Wall was the star for the Wizards that night with 28 points on 12-of-21 shooting, eight assists and seven rebounds after taking only nine shots and finishing with 18 points and five assists in the November loss.
Washington's recent four-game winning streak featured three weak opponents - two wins over the 76ers and one against Minnesota - but it couldn't duplicate the biggest of the bunch in Friday's rematch with Cleveland. After beating the Cavaliers 113-99 in the nation's capital Sunday, the Wizards were throttled 108-83 at Quicken Loans Arena.
The point total was their lowest since a 97-75 loss to Miami on Jan. 3 and ended a six-game stretch of topping 100. Wall shot the ball well, going 8 of 14 with 17 points and seven assists, but the rest of his teammates were at 35.8 percent.
"It's not a step back," Wall said. "It's just an old-fashioned tail-whipping. That's what they gave us."
Wall may again have a chance to put up big numbers against the Pacers, who had a hard time containing another All-Star caliber point guard Friday, allowing Kemba Walker to dictate the pace with 33 points and 10 assists in Charlotte's 108-101 victory.
Wall has seemingly had his way with Indiana, averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists in the last six meetings while shooting 52.4 percent or better in five of them, but his strong play in those games has only resulted in a 3-3 split.
George had a strong line Friday with 35 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals, but he scored only six in the fourth quarter. He also didn't get much help from George Hill and Monta Ellis, who shot a combined 10 of 31 for 27 points.
"We failed to get stops and failed to score," coach Frank Vogel said after Indiana was outscored 28-19 in the fourth to lose its fourth in five games after a 8-4 span.