Wizards face first-place Sixers... again

Wizards face first-place Sixers... again
January 23, 2012, 1:22 pm
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PHILADELPHIA -- If its Monday, it must be Philadelphia. For the third time in 11 days, the Wizards will play the 76ers. The Wizards dropped the previous two meetings, but that was back in the bad old days, before the teams recent run of competitive games.

Recent is a relative term, and the goal is still to win and not just be competitive. Still, there are tangible signs of progress for the Wizards since they last played the 76ers at home on Jan. 14. Before Sundays loss to the Celtics, the Wizards had a run of three straight games over 100 points after failing to reach the century mark in the seasons first 12 games.

We have reached the point where 10 days ago, we werent competing at a high level, Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. We are now competing at a high level. Now we have to find a way to close out games like we did against Oklahoma City.

The victory over the Thunder provided a much needed injection of confidence for a loss-weary Wizards team. The win was followed by a four-point loss to the Nuggets, but against the NBAs No. 1 team in steals, the Wizards committed only 11 turnovers.

In addition to the Wizards' focus on closing games, they must pay attention to playing complete games. The push at the end of Sundays Celtics game might not have been necessary had the Wizards not allowed a team without Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen to build a 15-point lead during a stretch from midway through the second quarter to midway through the third quarter.

NBA basketball is game of runs, but against elite teams, with or without two of their elite players, the Wizards are not in a place as a team where they can recover from huge deficits. To Saunders point about competing, the Wizards scored 29 points in the third quarter to prevent a collapse after falling behind by 15 points.

It is when playing from behind that the Wizards are most likely to have bad offensive possessions. On Friday the 13th against the 76ers in Philadelphia, the Wizards had a night worthy of the day. In a 120-89 loss, the Wizards managed only 35 points over the middle two quarters of the game.

The game against the 76ers at Verizon Center was better. The Wizards paid the price for a bad second quarter when they only scored 14 points, but the game also served as reboot to the 2011-12 season for John Wall. After committing seven turnovers in the first half against the 76ers, Wall only had six turnovers in the next 10 quarters, including the Thunder win.

Tonight, the Wizards will be trying to stop a four-game losing streak against a highly motivated 76ers team. It is the start of a seven-game homestand for the 76ers, and they return to Philadelphia with two losses in their last three games including a 113-92 defeat in Miami.