While the season is nearly over and the Washington Wizards will again miss the playoffs, they are playing at their highest level in years.
The Wizards believe that's a good sign for their future, and they'll go for a fifth straight win Wednesday night when they visit a Cleveland Cavaliers team that's likely to be without rookie star Kyrie Irving.
Washington has the second-worst record in the NBA behind Charlotte but has surprised a few playoff teams in the past two weeks.
The Wizards (18-46) have won four straight and six of eight. Three of those victories came against postseason-bound opponents - at home over Orlando and on the road against Chicago and Miami.
"In the middle of the season, we were still playing different ways and being selfish," point guard John Wall said. "We cleared things up, got some different guys here. Now, we're playing as a team and we're playing the best we played all season."
After stunning the Heat on Saturday, Washington cruised to a 101-73 victory over the Bobcats on Monday as Nene scored 18 points and Wall added 16 with 14 assists.
The Wizards' winning streak is their longest since the 2007-08 season, the last time they made the playoffs.
"If we add a couple of pieces, we know what we have on this team and what we can do when we play together," said Wall, who has recorded three consecutive double-doubles for the first time this season.
One person who will help Washington build around Wall is team president Ernie Grunfeld, who agreed to a new contract Monday.
Team owner Ted Leonsis said in a statement that "Ernie has led the charge to rebuild and change the direction of the Wizards." Grunfeld says he's "excited about the direction that we're headed."
Cleveland (21-43) is also building around its young point guard, but Irving missed the morning shootaround Wednesday and is doubtful due to gastroenteritis. He is coming off a 25-point performance in a 109-101 loss to Memphis on Monday.
That was the Cavaliers' fifth loss in six games and 17th in 21. Cleveland was outscored 32-23 in the fourth quarter, during which Irving didn't score, and he and fellow rookie Tristan Thompson combined to go 1 of 6 at the free-throw line over the final 2:17.
"He's kind of upset that he missed them, but I think it's good for him to go through that type of experience," coach Byron Scott said of Thompson. "It will help him in the long run. ... Sometimes failing is good and I think he will be even better for it."
Despite the defeat, it was an improvement as the Cavaliers' previous five losses were by an average of 21.2 points.
"I'm very satisfied with how hard we're playing and especially how well we played tonight," Scott said.
Cleveland and Washington have split two meetings this season. Both were in the nation's capital, the most recent a 98-89 Cavaliers victory April 14.
The Associated Press News Service
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