Washington fighting Toronto, Philadelphia for that spot
As well as the Wizards have played since John Wall returned to the lineup, the playoffs were never more than a fairy-tale idea for a team that bottomed out at 4-28 on Jan. 6, just before his return.
They're 23-18 since, and even if they can't reach the postseason, they still intend to get as close as possible. Given where they've come from, it won't be considered a consolation prize.
"To be able to try and get to that ninth spot in the East would be a hell of an accomplishment for these guys," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "That's what we're trying to do. To do it, we've got two teams [to get past]: Toronto, who we play twice, and Philadelphia, who we play once."
|Bulls at Wizards|
|When » Tuesday, 7 p.m.|
|Where » Verizon Center|
|TV » CSN|
Sunday's 109-92 win over the Raptors (27-46) gave the Wizards (27-46) more wins than they've had since they last made the playoffs in 2008. It also pulled them into a tie for 10th place in the Eastern Conference with nine games to play. The teams will meet again north of the border Wednesday with a chance for one team to pull ahead of the other and close ground on the ninth-place 76ers (30-43), who visit Washington on April 12.
"We are approaching [the final nine games] like a playoff team, like if we were fighting for the seventh or eighth seed," Wall said. "We want to get to the ninth seed and finish the season on a winning record."
Fittingly then -- aside from playing the Raptors and Sixers -- the rest of the Wizards' regular-season slate comes against Eastern Conference playoff teams, starting Tuesday against the gritty Chicago Bulls (40-32), who snapped NBA-leading Miami's 27-game winning streak last week.
The Wizards, who also end the year in Chicago on April 17, have made a habit of beating playoff-bound teams regularly, including a Bulls team without Derrick Rose -- as they have been all season -- and Luol Deng on Jan. 26. But doing so on the road -- trips to Boston, New York and Brooklyn remain -- will be exceedingly difficult for a team that is tied for the second-fewest victories away from home in the NBA (7-29).
"I'm evaluating them," Wittman said. "I need to know who can do it in the end in April, when your heart gets your team into a position to make a playoff run."
Washington did beat Chicago once and Miami twice during a season-ending six-game winning streak last year. Those teams were gearing up for the postseason, and the Wizards were simply trying to feel better about themselves.
After meeting the Wizards later this week, the Raptors also play six of their last seven against East playoff teams. But only five of the Sixers' final nine games come against teams headed to the postseason. Philadelphia still isn't technically eliminated from playoff contention but needs a minor miracle to catch Milwaukee (35-37 entering Monday).