The Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards haven't made the postseason since 2007-08, but they're thinking playoffs as the season's second half gets underway.
After a busy All-Star weekend, DeMar DeRozan and John Wall will no longer be teammates as the visiting Raptors aim for a fourth consecutive win over the Wizards on Tuesday night.
Wall had 12 points and DeRozan scored eight as the Eastern Conference came back to beat the West 163-155 in Sunday's All-Star game. Wall also threw down a spectacular dunk and was named dunker of the night in Saturday's slam dunk contest, leading his conference to victory alongside Indiana's Paul George and Toronto's Terrence Ross.
"It was a great experience. Just to go out there and have fun with the league's best. To be in that same category is great," DeRozan said. "It was good to go out there and play with those guys, and now it's time to get back to work."
The Atlantic Division-leading Raptors (28-24) come out of the break in third place in the East, with the Wizards (25-27) in sixth.
"If that's not a motivation then you've got to get the heck out of here," Raptors point guard Greivis Vasquez said. "You don't see these opportunities very often. We're committed to the team and we understand what we're playing for.
"We want to make a run in the playoffs but we've got to finish the season strong and keep building confidence."
The Raptors are seeking a third consecutive win after beating Atlanta 104-83 on Wednesday. DeRozan led the way with 31 points while All-Star snub Kyle Lowry added 16 and 13 assists.
"Kyle's an All-Star on and off the court in my opinion," said DeRozan, averaging 26.9 points over his last 10 games. "We wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for Kyle. I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for Kyle, to be honest. We all understand that."
The Wizards entered the break with four losses in five games, including a 113-112 defeat at Houston on Wednesday. Trevor Ariza had a season-high 32 points and 11 rebounds and Wall scored 19 to go along with 14 assists, but Washington gave up the winning layup with 0.7 seconds remaining.
"It's too bad, these guys deserved to win that game. To have it taken from them like that, it's sad," coach Randy Wittman said. "The next 30 games is what we have to battle in all 30 games like we did tonight. There are no games to waste now."
Six of the Wizards' last seven defeats have come by three points or fewer or gone past regulation.
"I'm very excited, looking forward to seeing what we can do as a team," Wall said. "I feel like we let a lot of games slip away in the first half. We just have to be competitive and go do a better job in the second half and get us a better playoff spot."
Toronto has taken both matchups this season, winning 96-88 at home Nov. 22 despite Wall's season-high 37 points and 101-88 in Washington on Jan. 3.
The Associated Press News Service
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