February 26, 2015

Consecutive blowout wins over their main competitors have the Washington Wizards right back in the thick of the playoff chase.

They'll aim for another against an opponent far out of the postseason picture in Thursday night's road test with the Philadelphia 76ers.

After losing a season-high five straight from March 4-12 to fall back in the Eastern Conference race, Washington (32-35) has responded by defeating fellow contenders Detroit and Chicago by a combined 64 points. The Wizards closed within 1 1/2 games of the eighth-place Bulls with Wednesday's pivotal 117-96 victory.

''We knew that the teams that we're chasing were right here in front of us,'' forward Jared Dudley said. 'We knew it was now or never.''

An offensive resurgence has keyed the turnaround. After averaging 96.8 points and shooting 43.0 percent during its losing streak, Washington went a season-high 56.7 percent from the field in Monday's 124-81 rout of the Pistons and hit 13 of 21 3-point attempts against Chicago.

The Wizards have been thriving on the defensive end as well, holding those two to a combined 40.4 percent and forcing 39 turnovers. They limited Detroit to a 3-of-23 performance from beyond the arc.

"If we just keep playing defense this way, we give ourselves a great chance to beat anybody. Simple as that,'' guard John Wall said. ''We simplified our defense the last two games, it showed up and it's been a lot better.''

Washington's upward trends could very well continue against lowly Philadelphia (9-58). The 76ers average a league-high 17.4 giveaways and have been deplorable defensively since the All-Star break, allowing 116.5 points per game and 39.8 percent 3-point shooting.

The Sixers were on the receiving end of Bojan Bogdanovic's career-high 44-point night in Tuesday's 131-114 loss at Brooklyn, their 15th defeat in 16 games. The Nets led 32-15 after one quarter and by as many as 23 during a 71-point first half.

"We dug ourselves a hole at the start," coach Brett Brown said. "We ended up winning the second half. We just got jumped at the start. We knew they were going to come out and try to fix some of the things that they felt they needed to in the games we won previously."

Philadelphia, 3-39 against the East, also hasn't offered much resistance in losing all three 2015-16 meetings with the Wizards, including a 103-94 defeat at Wells Fargo Center on Feb. 26. It's particularly struggled to contain Wall, who's averaged 26.0 points in the season series and amassed 37 in a 116-108 victory on Feb. 29.

Marcin Gortat also has given the 76ers' suspect interior defense problems. The center had 18 points and a career-high 20 rebounds in the most recent matchup and is averaging 18.4 points and 13.0 rebounds in five consecutive Washington wins over Philadelphia.

Gortat hasn't played more than 25 minutes in the Wizards' last three games, however, due to a lower back injury.

Wall had 29 points and 12 assists against Chicago and is averaging 22.2 points and 10.6 assists over an 11-game stretch.

The Sixers remain without leading scorer Jahlil Okafor (knee surgery) but have been getting production from their current starting backcourt. Isaiah Canaan is 9 of 15 from 3-point range while totaling 42 points over his last two games and Ish Smith is averaging 18.7 points over the past six.

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